Police Beat: Slow Down You’re Moving Too Fast!

“Slow down, you’re moving too fast.”

What exactly does this have to do with crime prevention, personal safety, security issues and our general ability to enjoy a high quality of life? Everything. You see, I was reading the paper this past week and I noticed reports on two separate traffic accidents that claimed the lives of young persons.

One accident occurred in the Ottawa area and the other in Gatineau and it certainly appears from the news reports that speed was a factor, although I am not suggesting that speed alone was the cause of these tragic events.

This article is not meant to focus on the slogan of “speed kills” because that is too black and white for me. I prefer to reveal the complexity of issues rather than oversimplify them. The reality is that we currently live in a society that is consumed with doing things at an increasingly faster pace. Let’s not sugarcoat this: we as a North American society, value speed. This value is virtually everywhere you look.

Car companies promote cars that are built for speed, despite the fact that we have regulated speed limits and obvious environmental and economic issues with cars that consume more gas. Computer companies sell their products based on how quickly they process information, yet it’s not as if this technology has really created more leisure time for us. We marvel at Olympic athletes who break records every year because they are getting faster, despite the evidence of obvious doping and use of steroids amongst high-level athletes. We take great pride in the fact that we can do things 10 times faster than we could 20 years ago, yet most of us still work a 40 hour work week and some jobs even encourage that you to take work home and be available to answer calls and respond to e-mail outside of official work hours.

Rarely do we stop to look at the collateral damage caused by choosing to value speed above common sense.

Anyone who has been the victim, or a relative or friend of a victim of a horrific car crash, where speed was a contributing factor, will probably tell you that going too fast has cost them dearly. The collateral damage of speed has widespread impacts.

What I want to talk about is the perception that doing things as fast as possible increases our ability to get ahead in society, free up our time and enjoy a higher quality of life. As a police officer, I see the opposite.

What I see is that our perceived need to continually do things faster actually decreases our quality of life. For example, despite the fact that the popular perception is that being in Centretown puts residents more at risk because of criminal activity, the reality is that Centretown residents continue to report traffic violations as their main concern.

Why do you think that is? Well, I think it’s because people in Centretown have long realized that they are more at risk of being hit by a vehicle driven by an aggressive or distracted driver, than assaulted or murdered in cold blood on the street by some stranger. And why do you think that motorists are increasingly driving in a manner that is making them a danger to society? It is because motorists are in a hurry.

In fact, the Ottawa Police Service recently released statistics that showed that between 2006 and 2008, driver inattention was, at least in part, the cause of 5,490 traffic collisions, 1,938 injuries and eight deaths.

And just so I’m clear, I am not just talking about speed here, I am talking about the fact that motorists today are becoming increasingly impatient, aggressive, distracted and that this generally relates to the fact they are in a hurry.

It is not uncommon to see a driver talking or texting on their cell phones sometimes even while drinking coffee and I assume at that point they must be navigating the car with their knees to keep it straight! I have even seen women applying make up while driving, or other people looking for something in the rear seat or front passenger seat, often while they are rushing through traffic as if their life depended on reaching their destination on time.

For some reason, driving is not enough anymore. People feel they need to accomplish other things while driving, perhaps because they feel that simply propelling a few thousand pounds of steel through a crowded urban landscape is a waste of their valuable time. This “perceived” need to not “waste time” has somehow made it acceptable to multi-task even though it has been proven that our attention can only be in one place at a time.

Doing many things at once, means that you are not really able to do any of them very well, yet when it comes to driving some people believe the opposite. Sadly, even in the face of blatant evidence to the contrary, people’s attitudes towards being in a hurry and doing more than one thing at a time, don’t seem to be changing any time soon.

I could apply this point to many things in our daily lives. For example, I hear people complain that we live in a disconnected society, but then those same people will ask you how your day is going, but never stick around to hear your answer. Conversely, people being asked the question rarely give an honest, or in-depth answer, because they are also in a rush.

So, if we continue to make daily choices that propel us to be in a hurry and we accept that rushing through life is better than slowing things down and asking yourself: “Why am I in such a hurry anyway?” then I guess we can’t really expect our quality of life to improve in our own backyard.