Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On Dalton McGuinty and gradual adulthood

Impudent Strumpet has a post up about this stunner from Dalton McGuinty:

"Perhaps the most precious thing we have in society is our children, and that includes our older children," McGuinty said.

"We owe it to our kids to take the kinds of measures that ensure that they will grow up safe and sound and secure, and if that means a modest restriction on their freedoms until they reach the age of 22, then as a dad, I'm more than prepared to do that."

Essentially, the McGuinty Liberals have proposed a law that would place a number of further restrictions on drivers under the age of 22, including a blood alcohol limit of 0 and, for 16-19-year olds, a ban on having more than one teen passenger in the car at a time. New, special consequences for breaking driving regulations would also be introduced (including a 30-day license suspension for teens caught in their first instance of speeding, and growing more severe with each subsequent instance).

All of which seems appropriate and reasonable, unless you've been under the age of 22 recently, are related to someone who's been under the age of 22 recently, and/or think about it for half a second.

The article points out a few obvious issues, including the idea that 3 bone-dry 19-year olds (read: legal adults) couldn't share a ride to the movies (or church, or work). It points out that this means a group of 19-year olds, perhaps during their first year of college, would need to find twice as many cars and twice as many designated drivers every weekend, which can already be a difficult process.

I have a few more.

A 30-day license suspension for speeding. Let's think about that.

I'm one of 3 siblings in my family, all of whom are drivers, and two of whom, at 18 and 19, are both teens and legal adults. In the summers, when we're all at home, that's 5 adults trying to get to their 5 jobs (6 jobs, back when I had two), at least two of which are shift work, using two or three cars. That involves a hell of a lot of co-ordination, and a hell of a lot of dropping off and picking up and planning every evening. If any one of us had our license suspended for a month, that would be a huge deal. It's more than an inconvenience - it makes getting to work for whoever lost their license all but unfeasible. My 19-year old brother works a 45-minute drive away, in the opposite direction the rest of us go. No one could drop him off and pick him up every day.

And you know what? I worked all through high school, too, and volunteered and had a social life, and it wouldn't have been any better then.

It sort of seems like the more responsibilities you have, the worse this provision is for you. If all you do is go to the movies with friends, I guess you can probably work around a suspended license. The people who are most vulnerable here are those who do more - who commute to college or university from home, who work, who volunteer, who are helping take care of family members they don't live with, etc etc. That's right, young people do these things.

I suppose the argument is that this should be added incentive on my mature, responsible (and, I'll say again, legal adult of a) brother not to speed.

Again, let's think that through. The flow of traffic, at any given time, is generally speeding by a little bit. Like many Canadians, I took Young Driver's, back in the day, and they specifically teach their students to go with the flow of traffic, even if it is a little over the speed limit, because that's the safer option. Under these new laws, by doing what I was taught in driver's ed, I'm putting myself at risk of a suspended license.

And don't anybody point out that no one gets tickets for going 5km over the limit. We all know someone who's been nailed for 5-10.

I think the root problem here is that a lot of people generally don't perceive young adults as having the same needs as 'full adults' (which I apparently became on Jan 8, 2007). There's a reason why 'full adults' need to seriously fuck up before they lose their license* - adults need to be able to drive. They need to get to their jobs, shuttle their families around, etc. A lot of people don't really buy the idea that young adults need these things, too. They're wrong. Anyone who's had to finance any part of their post-secondary education will understand how catastrophic it would be to lose a month (or a summer) of work because you were caught doing 115 on the QEW. Young people need this autonomy in a very real way.

Impudent Strumpet, I think, hits the nail on the head when she raises this point:
I'm a horrible, nervous, skittish driver who hasn't been behind the wheel in a decade (aren't you glad?). I didn't finish graduated licensing within the allotted five years, but I have a G1 to use as ID. I also happen to be 27 years old. Under these proposed rules, I could go to one of those crammer driving schools that promises to get you through the road test in 24 hours, pass my G1 exit test and get a G2, and drive around with as many screaming idiots as I can fit in the car. However, a fully-licensed 21-year-old who's been driving every day since they were 16 (and who is, in fact, qualified to be my accompanying driver as I frantically practice for the road test) can't road-trip to the cottage or drive their whole band to the gig in the same van.
This is discrimination against youth.

McGuinty is not suggesting adding extra qualifications to graduated licensing - he's not saying, "Let's add another step where new drivers, for the first 5 years that they're on the road, can't have any alcohol in their blood at all, can't have more than one passenger, and will face heightened penalties if they mess up." He's saying youth**.

When unclear, I endorse the age equivalency test: what other legal rights and obligations do people of x age have?

Age 18: You can vote, go to war, become a sex worker, whatever sex you like with whoever you please, get married, be tried for your crimes in adult court, and receive an adult sentence.

But having two of your friends in the car with you while driving is, according to McGuinty, too much responsibility.

Oh, I see.

*Demonstrative sidenote from my Criminal Law class: driving more than 50km over the speed limit can get anyone's license suspended for a full year. Yet some people, when charged as such, will actually try to plead up to a higher-level offence like careless driving or dangerous driving as a summary offence which can yield a huge fine ($1000-2000) but has no suspended license provision. That's because having no license sucks, for most people.
**Interesting how he's arguing for harsher penalties for young people where generally the law thinks young people shouldn't be penalized to the extent that adults are. Cops used to scare the shit out of me when I was younger - now, not so much.

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