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Cars/Guns don’t kill people, People kill people

This is true, but not a reason for refraining from regulating access to and use of these things, for the following reasons.

The “tools” are by themselves neutral, simply complex objects. They only require regulations governing their manufacture and design so that they do not create “collateral” harm through pollution or other hazards such as being likely to move or fire when not intended or being dangerous to bump into; most people are likely to agree that cars should stay where parked, not cause fires or explode and not poison us all.

Likewise guns should have safety catches and not blow apart when you use them. It’s helpful if your toddlers can’t set them off either, as some tragic cases have shown (link?) and here we get to the area where opinions divide.

People, all of us including myself, are likely to and do make mistakes or do harmful things deliberately. That does not make us all criminals nor idiots, it’s just part of the limitations of being human and subject to fatigue, mis-perception, distraction and emotions and other limits on our awareness. So, occasionally, we go too fast, get confused, bump into things, lash out in anger or fear and see dangers where they don’t exist or exaggerate threats. This doesn’t usually result in mayhem, just minor injuries, looking foolish and relatively minor disputes or bad relations; we can deal with these.

When we amplify our bodies’ abilities and size by carrying guns or driving vehicles, we amplify “exponentially” the harmful consequences of our mistakes. Hence people using vehicles or guns should have to follow additional rules and constraints to reduce or eliminate (“Vision Zero” ) the likelihood of that harm occurring, especially as it cannot be undone; ask anybody who’s been in a traffic accident (I have) or relatives of people shot dead.

Responsibility increases with power, one argument used to justify hugely greater rewards for executives than other more “lowly” employees. This argument is just as valid, in fact more so, with respect to guns and vehicles; they are more likely to result in death and injury than a bad business decision. So it is reasonable and logical that people using guns and cars should do so under greater constraint than unarmed pedestrians, cyclists, equestrians and so on. This is the case for HGV and bus drivers and the captains of large ships and this seems generally accepted; they are also generally held to carry a greater liability for “accidents” on account of it being “reasonably foreseeable” that they pose a danger to others. So why does this rarely,  depending upon what country you live in, get applied to drivers of cars and gun owners? Nobody likes constraints but we need to have them not least because self-restraint is an unreliable means of dealing with significant hazards. I am not in favour of excessive laws, signs, rules etc. but fewer and more effective laws,  based upon the principle of restraining people’s ability to do direct (and some kinds of indirect) harm to others.  Further, I believe that with greater responsibility there should also be a larger share of the liability for consequences. This concept of “strict liability” is applied in a few countries, the Netherlands  being a good example.

So, in practice on the roads this would mean that those of us who drive a car, in addition to having to pass a more stringent and certified test of competence and paying a tax on our vehicle, we carry a greater presumed liability if we injure a person on foot or bike because we should already be driving with greater care and attention than those less able to do harm and we should be anticipating surprises around the corner, from behind those parked cars and so on.

A recent Twitter conversation concerned cyclists “coming out of nowhere”, according to the van driver in London, which suggests either magical powers of cyclists (can I have some please?!) or that he wasn’t prepared for the possibilty that people on bikes might be part of the traffic. There is certainly plenty of stupid and reckless behaviour by people on foot and bike – as I was reminded the other night when a lad in black on an unlit bike rode straight off the pavement(sidewalk) into the carriageway without looking; there was no collision, I stopped and he rode on unaware of the near miss. Yes, I needed to sharpen up too and he needed some cycle training and a fine for not using lights, but if we had collided, even slowly, he would still have come off worse

(I’ve had a free low speed bonnet ride, I was lucky to escape serious injury and likely death under another vehicle after I flew off the bonnet and into the opposite lane when the driver put his brakes on, luckily it was clear at that moment).

The Dutch experience of strict liability for motor vehicle drivers in relation to other road users appears both fair and successful in reducing casualties. They do other things too, of course, in a coherent way that makes their urban roads pleasant, convenient and mostly safe to walk or cycle along, so people do.

I’ve left guns behind in this, luckily for me here in UK there is less of a problem of people with guns. Cars and trucks, driven by fallible and distracted people, are the daily hazards I face; linking responsibility to power could help make moving around a bit easier and less risky for us all and provide more likelihood of a just outcome if it all goes wrong.

Safe journeys, walk, ride and drive safely.

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