Have you ever stopped to think about how dangerous our roads are? It takes very little skill or ability to obtain a driver’s license. You just skim a booklet, pass a written test, and drive around the block of the DMV. Renewing the license requires even less effort: take a new photo, maybe an eye exam, and pay a small fee.
With license in hand, you are able to get behind the wheel of a machine with tremendous potential for destruction. A number of cars are built like military vehicles and carry hundreds of horse power.
Despite the stakes, drivers routinely make decisions which needlessly endanger others on the road. Driving drunk. Racing. Driving while distracted by cell phones, navigation systems, screaming kids, and even televisions. Driving impatiently.
We see the aftermath of these risky decisions on a daily basis. Children or the elderly run over in marked cross walks. Motorcyclists, moped riders, and bicyclists in constant peril. Roadside memorials are everywhere. It has gotten to the point where we need bumper stickers to remind people to “Drive With Aloha” and “Slow Down. This Ain’t The Mainland”.
How are these bad decisions regulated? Well, unless a drunk driver kills someone, drivers usually do not serve jail time for injuring another person. In most collisions the police do not issue citations to the offending driver. If there is a citation, it only requires payment of a nominal fee to the government, not the injured party. Habitually unsafe drivers may see a modest increase in auto insurance premiums. The offending driver typically does not offer an apology or compensation, and simply turns the matter over to an insurance company.
So how do we enforce the rules of the road in a meaningful way? The civil justice system. We live in one of the only countries in the world in which injured persons are entitled to a trial by jury. The jury serves as the voice of the community by telling drivers what is, and what is not, acceptable behavior. A defendant decides to drive while texting, crashes, and causes someone lifelong pain? The jury speaks for us all and makes a larger statement by issuing a verdict which fully compensates the injured. The statement is: “The people of Hawaii will not tolerate this type of unnecessarily dangerous conduct.”
So the next time you are called for jury duty, know that you may be asked to help make our roads safer.