Two Second Distraction: Four Dead

Posted on January 18th, 2012 by James Luckhurst

Two Second Distraction: Four DeadA UNIVERSITY LECTURER who lost control of his car as he reached for a mint from his jacket pocket, causing an accident which killed three people and an unborn baby, received a 90-day prison sentence.  The 52-year-old caused a crash on a British motorway when his car, travelling at 70mph, swerved across three lanes and hit a lorry, sending both vehicles across the central reservation into oncoming cars.
In passing sentence, Judge Granville Styler said: ‘Throughout life, we all make mistakes. Most pass without future incident. A few have tragic results.’ The lecturer was also banned from driving for three years.

The man is not a murderer — he did not set out to kill these people. Nevertheless, he managed to wipe out more people than most murderers do. In an account published after his release from prison, he called himself an “accidental killer”, but he was certainly responsible for what occurred (though a good measure of very bad luck led to the horrific carnage). Reaching over for the mint, he was reckoned to have been inattentive for 1.96 seconds. Overcompensating for the car drifting in one direction, he corrected too hard first in one then the other direction. After the ensuing crash, he was able to step out of his car practically uninjured.   In his account, he wrote: “It is possible that harsh sentences have a deterrent effect in relation to drink-driving, but no motorist will drive more carefully himself because he reads of imprisonment for momentary misjudgement or inattention.”

He makes much of the mere 1.96 seconds he wasn’t paying attention. It sounds like it is just an instant, barely the blink of an eye. Surprisingly (or not) he never describes it in other terms: travelling at 70 mph he would have covered over 200 feet (over 60 metres) in that time — an enormous distance to drive blindly.

There are accidents and there are accidents. An astonishing number of people do die in household or workplace accidents — slipping in the shower, falling off a ladder, and the like. But these can be put in a different category from motor vehicle “accidents” – specifically because most of them only cause direct physical harm to the person having the accident. In the case of motor vehicle “accidents” the victims are likely to be innocent bystanders and passengers.