I should feel more shame. When you’ve done something you know is wrong, so wrong you’re going to be faced with public humiliation that has echoes of Mao’s China, where they used to take those who had transgressed and parade them in public wearing dunces’ caps - when you’ve sunk that low, you should be drenched in remorse and wish the earth would swallow you up. Brazen creature that I am, I feel none of that.
My wrong deed occurred a couple of months ago. I was driving on a side road that links two main roads, one that twists and then goes sharply downhill for about a quarter of a mile. The sign at the start of the road says 30 mph, but somehow by the time I was half-way down that hill I was doing 39 mph. I know it was 39 mph, not because I saw it on my speedometer but because about three weeks ago I got a letter telling me the RUC, ooops, PSNi had clocked me doing that, and did I want a £60 fine and three points on my licence or an £80 fine and a four-hour workshop where I’d be made aware of the dangers of speeding? Since I don’t like the thought of docked points and since I’m a pensioner (oh God- did I say that?) and I don’t get docked pay for taking a half-day off, I’ve opted for the reformatory workshop and the £80.
Yes I know, speed kills, it takes three bus-lengths or whatever to come to a stop if you’re doing 30 mph, I shouldn’t have been breaking the speed-limit, but ...I don’t feel a bit guilty. There was no danger of my hitting anyone. Yes, that extra 9 mph could have made a difference, but so could the amount of sleep I’d had, the attention I was giving to my radio, the cleanliness of my windscreen, the cleanliness of my glasses – there’s no end to the factors that can conspire to have bad things happen to us. I’ve a mild sense that I’d probably have been better with less press-on-the-gas but that’s it. Without being too overweening, I believe I’m capable of making decisions about what speed makes sense in a given situation. I know the law doesn’t agree but that doesn’t alter my belief. Do I need a hidden cop camera to control me or I’ll turn into a public menace? I don’t think so.
In fact, some research suggests the opposite. In England, they’ve experimented with removing traffic lights at a particular junction. Result: not more crashes but fewer. Instead of amber-gambling to get through the lights, drivers became actively engaged in deciding who’d arrived first at the junction and who therefore should go next. In short, decision-making power was devolved to the individual. I like the sound of that.
Maybe we should be active, not passive. Maybe there comes a point where we need to be allowed decide for ourselves the right and reasonable course of action. Or maybe not. Maybe I’ll learn remorse and the shame of irresponsible actions after I’ve attended this rehabilitation workshop in the middle of the month. Watch, as they say, this space.