Driving and other Dilemmas   Leave a comment

I just read an article posted on MSNBC.com about a 17-year-old boy in Rhode Island who has had his driver’s license banned for the rest of his life. The judge went so far as to announce that he was tired of the carelessness of young drivers and that he was going to pretty much make an example out of this kid.

Lyle Topa, a senior in high school, crashed his car after leaving a party where he apparently drank some alcohol. He was speeding and also failed to use his seat belt. Other teens were in the car, the article stated that one of them spent a few weeks in a coma while the others were not further mentioned. From what was stated, this appears to be Lyle’s first offence, but when you factor in his age it’s not like he’s had a lot of time to showcase a good driving record in which this accident seems contradictory. It is anyone’s guess as to whether this was an innocent and extremely rare lapse in judgment or if Mr. Topa is just getting started as a true menace behind the wheel.

Banning someone for life from anything in this day and age initially seems like cruel and unusual punishment. We are a society that suffers from attention deficit disorder. We sensationalize every event for a short period of time and then merrily dance over the topic as if it were all part of a good-natured practical joke. People are not so much forgiven nor are they forgotten as they are simply replaced. It’s perhaps a mentality designed, nurtured and constantly evolving to keep up with the “reality TV” and YouTube generation. No matter your offence, what really dictates the level of attention you receive daily as time marches forward is simply whether or not there is something new to replace your story in the headlines.

This explains why situations such as Whitney Houston’s death and the Casey Anthony murder trial were beaten into our skulls for days and months, respectively, longer than the actual events warranted. Whitney Houston, regardless of her drug use and erratic behavior, was still not someone who was obviously going to pass away in the time frame that she did and while the murder of a toddler is always news worthy, the chance that the crime was committed by her mother or possibly her grandfather added a complexity to the situation that definitely harnessed more attention. But each story lingered in the media longer than necessary and this was not because of Whitney’s amazing voice, although she had one nor because Caylee Anthony was such an adorable and seemingly happy child, although it certainly appears as though she were. Each story got the attention that it did, for the length of time that they did because we, as a society, need something to feed our insatiable appetites and there simply was nothing else to talk about with such fervor following them until inevitable there was.

If you recall, we didn’t stop talking about Casey Anthony when she was found “not guilty”. The media, along with a horde of angry misfits, continued to obsess over her whereabouts, hair color and daily routine for a few months until Occupy Wall Street started gaining attention in September. She totally failed to be relevant as November brought another child abuse story to light for everyone to sensationalize and invest their emotions in. Yes, I am fairy sure that without Jerry Sandusky we may actually still be updated as to every step Casey Anthony makes. The media follow the story that will bring the most excitement; whether it’s of a positive or negative energy is not the issue.

And so, with the introduction of reality television into just about every aspect of life all segments of humanity are now tended to and considered under the same set of rules one might ascertain a journalism career while working for a tabloid. How does all of this relate to a 17-year-old, high school senior being banned from driving for life?

People have ceased to be seen as people. Everyone is now a container, if you will, in which their “story” has been poured into. Our fascination with labels, our desperate need to place everyone into groups, dividing and clumping together as methodically as a person with severe OCD is sure to check on details that are meaningless and of no real merit other than to pacify the hell-bent urge to officially do something that will make sense out of the misunderstood, misrepresented and tragically flawed actions and devotions of not only strangers, but our very selves.

Language is bursting with possibility, but the people who are lucky enough to possess a “way with words” are cursed to the very same extent to be talking to people who are not so lucky. So a judge, thinking that maybe his actions will change something for the better, that somehow making a radical decision will afford the benefit lost on all of those who in previous similar situations choose instead to merely do what was expected, is hoping that other young drivers will associate their “story” with Lyle’s story and glean a better list of reasons to do the right thing. They will not drink and drive. They will not speed. They will most certainly wear their seatbelts. And why will they do all of this? Because they now know that if they do not and they are caught they will never drive again. They will lose freedom, opportunity, self-respect and because of this glaring example of what not to do this judge has now become a role model for other judges to do the bold thing, an absolute authority to the young drivers who were so immature and misguided that merely having a friend lapse into a coma for a few weeks was not enough of a wake-up call, but not being able to drive themselves to the next party is, and a super hero to all of the parents incapable of reaching their teenaged drivers with words of wisdom and were left with no other choice than to hand over the keys and say silent prayers throughout the long nights when their sons and daughters disappeared into the vast unknown.

At the end of it all, what stands out most is that people are not merely containers. We are entwined with the fabric of our universe and each investment, each relationship that an individual partakes in, from the simple exchange of a smile with a random stranger in a grocery store, to gleefully exchanging wedding vows, to the cosmic embrace we each fumble through as we set in motion our continual choreographed routine there is something sacred about being a human being that does not stem from God, that does not imply we are greater than any other living group of beings, but fantastically functions based on the very real and very simple notion that we feel it to be true.

If we’ve sincerely found ourselves in a time where a teenaged boy needs to be banned from driving for life as the only way of impressing upon him that life is precious and should be valued and cherished, then by all means take away his license. But I am finding it hard to accept that this is really the battle we should pick to fight when there is a boy aiming to become a young man and all he cares about is celebrating what he has yet to define as worthy.


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