At long last, justice may come to hoons who kill
Justice is “the principle that punishment should be proportionate to the offence”. Well, that’s a dictionary definition anyway.
For many innocent victims of dangerous driving in South Australia, justice would seem to be a myth. In March last year, John Swindle was walking his dog when killed by a 17-year-old speeding along Saint Bernards Road, Magill. Under the effects of alcohol and cannabis, the P-plater panicked and fled.
In February, the Adelaide Youth Court spared the boy a jail term, instead handing down a suspended sentence, a $1,000 fine and a 10-year licence ban.
Outside court, Mr Swindell’s desolate partner Sarah said: “I just wanted [the boy] to know that you don’t just kill someone and then walk away.” But apparently, you do.
Last June, Corey Siemers was killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Two drivers were speeding up to 90km/h along Marion Rd – one slowed down but the other ploughed into Corey’s car.
Nineteen-year-old Christopher Thomas Spurling Janes of Plympton, the driver who slowed, was the first to be sentenced. In April, an Adelaide Magistrate asked him: “Why should we give credit for the equivalent of putting down the gun after the bullet was on its way?”
But Janes walked away with a $400 good-behaviour bond and a 16-month licence ban. (Vinay Singh, the driver who hit Corey’s car, is yet to be sentenced.)
On the day that Janes walked free, Corey’s grandfather John Siemers lamented the leniency. “It is not going to stop hooligans because they’ll know they’re only going to get a slap on the wrist and let go.”
These are just two cases, but there are others.
We see the grief on the faces of loved ones. We see them outside the courtroom with their placards and photos, bewildered that the death of their beloved son, partner or friend seems to count for nothing. And it begs the question, is there any justice when it comes to senseless road deaths?
So I asked the SA Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Pallaras if the current system of hoon driving offences and penalties was a) adequate, and b) sufficient to act as a deterrent.
“The ‘adequacy’ of penalties depends upon the facts of the individual case. In some cases appropriate, others arguable,” he admitted.
He said anti-social driving was not just a legal problem, but a social problem and perhaps, in some cases, a psychological problem.
“The solution is not to be found by simply increasing legal penalties. The great majority of young drivers behave responsibly, only those who are not deterred by the penalties find themselves in court. It is questionable whether any penalties would deter those people.”
We’ll soon see if deterrence works. Within a month, new legislation comes into force making street racing a criminal act. Street racers will face up to three years’ jail for a first offence. Those causing death could face life in prison.
Good. Finally a clear, unambiguous message that society will not tolerate this behaviour. But to Mr Pallaras’s point, we need to tackle these issues on every level.
In a blaze of headline glory last year, we were told hoon cars would be crushed. How many so far? Two. There are more police than ever before, but we need them away from desks and behind the wheel to deter hoons or catch them in the act.
We need more school programs to warn teens against dangerous driving. And as a community we need to accept that the driving age of 16 might well be a licence to die. (The 17-year-old motorist who killed John Swindle was still called a ‘boy’ in court.)
None of this will bring back the loved ones of the grieving families we see outside courtrooms. It’s even arguable if justice is served by jailing teenagers for one impulsive, devastating act. But if my child was the victim, I know what I’d want.
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