Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Boy racers

Last night, I woke up to the sound of an almighty crash some 20 metres from my bedroom window. A boy racer had connected with a tree. The tree came through it surprisingly unscathed, but the car - which is sitting plaintively outside my house this morning - did not.

The sound of the impact was closely followed by a bout of yelling on the street. A drunk male passenger clambered out of the car and shouted adminitions at the driver. The driver, who was no older than twenty and utterly pissed, got out of the car, punched the tree, and then subjected the car to a series of kicks while shouting 'Fucking car!'. Fucked car was more like it: the engine was so badly damaged that the car simply smoked when the ignition was turned, and had to be pushed into a parked position. One drunk passenger slipped and nearly went under the car as it was being pushed.

Looking at the scene this morning, I could only feel relief that things didn't turn out so much worse - that no other vehicle or pedestrian was struck, and that no one in the car was injured (or, at least, didn't appear to be). The driver was taken off in handcuffs. Judging by the 'Money Mart' sticker above his registration plate, he had borrowed at some obscene rate of interest to purchase his pride and joy, but no longer has an asset to show for his debt. (And investors wonder why finance companies have been going down the tubes...)

You could speculate about why young people - usually men - behave this way. I was never one for drunken hooning, but at a teenager I rode at times with people who drove irresponsibly. I seemed to have a cheerful inability to link cause and effect. Likewise the young guy taken away by the Police from outside my house last night. He appeared genuinely surprised that an accident had resulted from his drunkenness, his driving way too fast, and the fact that he was (apparently) trying to pull some driving stunt at the time of the accident - probably showing off to his two female passengers. The difference between a pranged car and a manslaughter charge was probably only a matter of luck for this young guy, who had clearly made a number of utterly stupid decisions, but likely didn't intend harm to anyone.

I don't think there's much point attaching ranting moral condemnation to the driver's actions - not because he, and indeed his passengers, don't deserve it, but because I think it's more productive to look at young men's (self)destructive behaviour as the serious public health issue that it is. Whether or not you agree with punitive responses to boyracing, you have to concede that they're having a limited effect. I've got a son of my own, and despite all my efforts to raise him as a sensible being, I know there's every chance he'll have moments of reckless behaviour that may or may not end up causing harm.

Why do young guys behave in ways that pose risks to their own safety and others people's, and what - other than fines and other justice system-admnistered punishments - can the community do about it?


Anonymous said...

It isn't just young men. I made a stupid decision when I was young that could have resulted in the death of someone else and/or myself.

I drove drunk and took out a tree and a power pole. The car rolled several times. I escaped largely unharmed but the only part of the car that wasn't crushed was the little space my head was occupying.

I faced the courts and paid fines and lost my license. I paid for the power pole. I lost friends. I lost my self confidence and slipped into a bit of depression. But I am so relived it happened to me.

I was a pretty angry teen at the time and was going through a few issues. My boyfriend and I had a fight when I was very drunk and I walked out of the house and drove away. My peers all drove drunk and I was so wasted I didn't think about it. I was largely drunk because I was self medicating.

The best thing that came out of it was for me to take a long hard look at how I was using alcohol. To realise I drank when I was stressed and that recognizing the signs of stress and anger was so important. I was so lucky I didn't cause any damage to anyone else.

We need to help our young people to deal with emotions and life in a more productive manner. Young people are constantly demonized for their wayward behavior but it is often the result of anger or low self confidence. Cherishing our young would be a good first step to addressing the use of alcohol in society and hopefully stop some of the actions mentioned in this post.

lovestitches said...

We have such a "nah, it won't happen to ME" attitude in this country. Combined with an almost total lack of help for people who need it. Not to mention the teenagers who think they're shit hot and bullet-proof. The fact that the kid swore at his car like it was the cause of hisspeeding/drunken behaviour says alot.

Brett Dale said...

There needs to be more consequences for boyracers, they do what they do, because they can get away with it, clear and simple, they don't pay their fines, they don't do their community service, its a joke to them.

As soon as we take Australia's approach and start crashing their cars the better, public safety is the number one issue.

Anna said...

Has the car crushing been shown to work - and, if so, can the same thing be achieved in a less wasteful way?

AWicken said...

A psychology professor down in Otago gives an interesting presentation for people dealing with tertiary students - the cliff notes of a 50 minute talk on developmental psychology are: "low impulse control is made worse by the alcohol abuse it encourages".

Most people survive it and move on, and that's about the only reassurance anyone can get. Every "get tough" program can point to specific "successes", but the fact is that administrative punishments after the fact aren't particularly effective against drunk people with no impulse control.

It's not that they think they're "bullet proof" - they just don't connect the fact that they're in a shooting gallery with their sudden desire to run down-range and have a look at the target. It's easy to fix if you're on-site, though - if you see them "tense to run", and point out that whatever it is it's a silly idea, more often than not 3sec of thought overrules their impulse.

The trouble is that the brain is not a power-plant that is automatically engaged.

Hell, I'm 33 and my brain frequently slips into neutral.

Brett Dale said...

Its been shown the heavy handed approach in Australia have reduced the number of boy racers incidents.

The fact is, these guys just don't give a crap about anyone else, take a look at their blogs on bebo, its all about F**K the public and F**K the police.

If they had to pay for their illegal actions then they probably would.

Anonymous said...

"Why do young guys behave in ways that pose risks to their own safety and others people's, and what - other than fines and other justice system-admnistered punishments - can the community do about it?"

The Christmas issue of the Economist had an essay looking at crime, evolution and appropriate policy responses to crime, which included the following:

"The study of the evolutionary roots of crime began with the work of Martin Daly and Margo Wilson, a married couple who work at McMaster University in Canada. They looked at what is usually regarded as the most serious crime of all, murder.

That murderers are usually young men is well known, but Dr Daly and Dr Wilson dug a bit deeper. They discovered that although the murder rate varies from place to place, the pattern does not. Plot the rate against the age of the perpetrator and the peak is the same (see chart). Moreover, the pattern of the victims is similar. They, too, are mostly young men. In the original study, 86% of the victims of male killers aged between 15 and 19 were also male. This is the clue as to what is going on. Most violence (and thus most murder, which is simply violence’s most extreme expression) is a consequence of competition between young, unemployed, unmarried men. In the view of Darwinists, these men are either competing for women directly (“You looking at my girl, Jimmy?”) or competing for status (“You dissing me, man?”).

This is not to deny that crimes of violence are often crimes of poverty (for which read low status). But that is precisely what Darwinism would predict. There is no need to invoke the idea that people are “born criminal”. All that is required is the evolution of enough behavioural flexibility to respond appropriately when violence is (or would have been, in the evolutionary past) an appropriate response...Crime, then, is one field in which women are unequal with men. That does not bother feminists, but perhaps it should. For it might reflect a wider truth which those who believe that the sexes should not merely have equal rights but enjoy equal outcomes will find uncomfortable.

Full article at: http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=12795581

Anonymous said...

(above posted by katy)

AWicken said...

Interesting article.

For years I've thought that the antics of an average Friday night really need a David Attenborough soundtrack - although I never analysed it to _quite_ that extent:)

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