Four year old Lilly Garcia is perhaps the most memorable victim in a road rage epidemic that is plaguing Albuquerque. As citizens we are all witnesses to the aggressive driving that is often the prelude to confrontation. As drivers we all make mistakes, but for some reason a culture of violence has entered our daily commute. Tailgating, speeding and zig-zagging are all symptoms of people hell bent on winning some imaginary driving competition.
A commute on the interstate can be a daunting prospect. Driving at the speed limit and following the traffic rules turns your rear bumper into a magnet for ever aggressive, ill-tempered driver within the City of Albuquerque. Few and far between is the law enforcement presence with the potential to curb the behavior. Lately the drive home has taken on the feel that we are very much on our own against the mad drivers.
I am sure we all remember the group of idiotic drivers who brought traffic to a stop on I-25 while they performed dangerous “donuts” in the middle of the freeway. Predictably an accident was the result.
It needs to stop. We as a community need to use the tools we have in place to make it stop.
We have two tools in our justice system that can be brought to bear on the reckless and aggressive drivers. First is the criminal court side of things where we talk about increased police presence, traffic law enforcement, tickets, and fines for bad drivers. We, as witnesses to bad behavior, need to report aggressive drivers when we see them.
Although law enforcement plays a role in preventing this conduct, we cannot abdicate our own responsibility as a community. If the criminal justice system is unwilling or unable to move forward with a case, we need to use our civil courts to seek a remedy. The civil court system is open to everyone and grants us the power to hold people responsible and accountable for the harms they cause. A lawsuit against an unsafe driver who hurts others allows a full airing of the bad acts of the offender and an accounting of the damages caused to those not a fault. Our civil law allows us to go further and punish defendants whose conduct is reckless, willful, or in wanton disregard for the rights and safety of others. Juries, everyday people and fellow members of our community, have the opportunity and should be empowered to hold reckless and aggressive drivers responsible and accountable to the full extent of the harms caused and to punish them specifically and generally to deter others. We have the opportunity and responsibility to deter this conduct by hitting the perpetrators in the pocketbook – something everyone understands. Reckless and aggressive drivers need to learn, if by no other way, through their wallets that owning a car brings certain responsibilities. If we as a community fail to avail ourselves of our own civil justice system or seek to make others feel guilty for doing so, we provide the reckless wrong-doers with no incentive to change their behavior. To the contrary, we send the implicit message that it’s okay.
Only by changing the culture of our driving philosophy will we be able to prevent these tragic road rage deaths. Of course part of changing that culture will take exercising our own judgement and self-control in those stressful moments, but part of it will also require us to force responsibility and accountability on those who do not accept it for themselves. To overlook or not use the tool that is our civil justice system is a failure by us to do all that we can to stop the reckless and aggressive drivers that are killing our fellow community members.