JUST OUTSIDE MY window, an unsafe car sat high-centred for a weekend until a boyfriend pushed it away for its owner. The car took its owner to her death two months later. Just on the nightly news tonight in Ireland comes another story of an unsafe (and probably uninsured) car that took three teenagers to their death on New Year's Eve.  In the case of the piece of shit car on in my front garden, the Irish policeman around the corner knew it was untaxed, uninsured, and in need of new tires. He knew its owner did not use her seatbelt and knew there weren't enough seatbelts for five kids that she often drove around town. But sure, she was down on her luck and just needed a fair deal. Her luck ran out one night while she was driving solo around 15 miles away. I doubt that anyone feels they were complicit in her death, even though they might have stopped the chain of events leading to a fatal accident.
Over in North Tipperary, you won't hear anyone berating the memories of three young, fine lads who were out enjoying a ride with friends.
As a flight safety officer who cleaned up several bloody accident sites, I look first for the initial causal factor. Based on preliminary Garda investigations, one of the first causal factors could be the mechanical condition of the crash car--an old car sold for less than most people get for scrappage value.  You get a crap car when you pay a shit price. And if you're a teenager living at home, who insures the car? And if it's neither insured nor taxed, what adult is culpable for facilitating the tragic chain of events that could have been worse--an oncoming car with its occupants could have been added to the accident tally.
Writing these words will open me to a string of invective from emotionally-sensitive fellow Tipperary residents who hold in greatest esteem the memory of those faithfully departed. May they rest in peace. But may I say my piece too. If you are a parent and you hold personal mobility in higher respect than communal safety, I question your maturity. If you are a police officer and you think you owe it to a single mom to let her have her way on the road--when you know she cannot stop in a straight line at any speed--I think you should consider your position.
When I came to Europe in 1986, I worked with a close-knit team who would recycle cars from person to person. After a decade of service, we knew those cars could still pass American Forces Motor Vehicle inspections but we weren't nuts enough to take them onto the German autobahn. One night, I got a blood-stained knock on my door from an 18-year-old Airman who crawled out of his wreck two miles away on the B40 in Germany. He didn't know it at the time, but his front right trailing arm assemply snapped, pulling his car off the road, into a ditch and through a tree. He kicked his way free and hobbled to my house. Two other guys would not be as lucky during the following four years--both victims of old cars that snapped and crashed.
We know how mechanical things work and how they fail. For the sake of saving our young, can't we follow the rules and keep our cars road-worthy? And when we cannot--because of money problems or parts shortages--why don't we take the safe option, perhaps by staying home for the evening?
1. Conor Lally, Fiona Gartland and James Hayden -- "Car crash kills three teenagers in New Year's Eve Tipperary tragedy" on the front page of The Irish Times, 1 Jan 09.
2. Fiona Gartland -- "Car bought recently for less than €500" in the Home News sections of The Irish Times, 1 Jan 09.
3. Grannymar -- "Life on our roads" 2 January 2009.
4. Steph -- "Still counting" 31 December 2008.
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