When I awoke this morning, I had no idea what I would write about. Not until I saw the silent tears of Katie rolling down her cheeks in my mind. I have never met her, but I have been both her parents and the one’s who have stolen the promise that their life was.
As I read this morning about little 7 year old Katie Manchester I felt just horrible. At the same time, I selfishly felt grateful.
On Saturday night, Katie’s parents did something that many people do. They went out to celebrate their anniversary. Rob and Lisa Manchester were married in 1989, and were out to celebrate 17 years of marriage. 17 years of love, promise, and for the last 7, of family. And, like most of us, thought nothing of it when they bid their little girl goodbye.
Goodbye wasn’t supposed to be for this long.
While heading home, Rob and Lisa had the most unfortunate turn of fate come upon them. Probably while smiling and reminiscing about their life together, or perhaps just enjoying each other’s company in quiet reflection, their car was suddenly transformed into a casket. Rob and Lisa had kept their promise to love one another until death parted them.
The cause of this tragedy has been once again attributed to a couple of stupid kids who thought that they could drive like the fictional characters with cool names in the video games that they so love. They believed Yonge Street was their very own high speed course where they could defy physics and fate. They were also, of course, wrong. Dead wrong.
I opened today’s story stating that I have been both Katie’s parents and the one’s responsible for this tragedy. On Saturday, the night of their accident, my wife and I were out on the road too. We were out celebrating the same thing as Rob and Lisa, only we were celebrating our 16th anniversary. That is one reason this story caught my attention.
As a young man, like most, my dream was to have a muscle car. My sister gave me a Chevelle around my 18th birthday. While not as organized as some of the racing circuits are today, street racing has nonetheless been around forever. As long as there have been cars able to propel their drivers along a street at high speeds and young men to pilot them, there have been 2500 pound missiles on our streets.
And like the two men who will have to live, like Katie, forever with the knowledge of the tragedy they have caused, I too used to race my car along city streets at absurd speeds. I, however, must have had an angel beside me. For some reason I will never be able to understand, I never had the misfortune of ripping a family asunder, and believe me, as I got older the reality of those things has hit home.
I have said to my wife countless times that I am thankful that I never destroyed a family. Now that I have children, and only now, can I fathom the bottomless hole that would be left were something so tragic and senseless deprive me of one of my own. I openly thank God that I have not had to live with that kind of pain or the guilt of having caused it.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper only this week unveiled new legislation to curb the deadly sport of street racing. While this measure is a good step in the right direction, we need so much more.
It isn’t only street racing that killed Rob and Lisa. It was also an attitude. The attitude that our traffic laws are simply hindrances and annoyances that are acceptably ignored by many. When I was younger, there was always the dread of a ticket in the background. Tickets led to higher insurance rates which led to no driving. They were a deterrent.
I will state honestly that most young men are not responsible drivers. While I am indeed speaking for myself at that age, I can reasonably pass the label on to many others. Simply look around you. There are also plenty of responsible young people, but most of your ‘Andretti’s’ are boys. I am sure that we can all remember being young. Nothing was too scary and the thought of death was perhaps the furthest thing from your mind. As a teen, we pretty much all had the opinion that time was endless and that we would never die.
Tightening sentences for street racing is one facet of combatting this deadly pastime. I will be among the first to acknowledge that consequences for these senseless acts of recklessness are needed. I will also state that these new measures will not make a noticeable difference. The only thing that will make a real difference is better enforcement of our traffic laws and the educating of our young men and women of the reality of their actions.
Our roads have become a joke, albeit a dangerous one. While I see plenty of police cars on our streets, I also see plenty of people who ignore simple rules of the road with impunity. It often appears that the officers have given up, that it isn’t worth their time writing a citation. That is too bad, because until our youth feel the need to obey our laws of the road, they will never be brought around to any form of compliance, and compliance and respect are what are missing.
When I was a young driver I never considered the consequences of my horrible driving. At the young age of 18, I never once pictured a little boy crying as he watched his Daddy, the man that he loved, being lowered into the ground. I never saw a mother weep as her little ‘angel’ was dressed in a fairy tale dress so those who knew her could say goodbye. When I was behind the wheel of my Chevelle with a huge grin as a slid the machine into a hairpin turn at 40 mph, I never considered what could ultimately become of it.
Neither did those who have destroyed Katie’s existence.
Perhaps it is time to begin a dramatic education for our young people. Perhaps some story boards with the damp eyes of all of those who have had to say goodbye to loved one’s. Perhaps some taped testimony from those who were the drivers of the missiles of carnage recalling how an instant of pleasure turned their own world from joy to sorrow in but a heartbeat. Perhaps the words of a crying mother asking “Why have you done this to our family? Why?”
It is also time that parents sat down with their young drivers. Feel them out. Are they listening? Really listening? If not, it is time to take their keys away. Do they have tickets to indicate poor driving attitudes? It is time to take their keys away.
And perhaps it is time to begin a campaign to hit home the fact that our streets are not the latest edition of Need For Speed.