not far from here. It occurred some days ago now but this morning's paper has a front page feature about the impact it has on the family of an innocent victim.
She had just dropped her daughter off at a friend's home when a 15yr old boy speeding in a stolen car crashed into hers and killed her.
It is the sort of senseless tragedy that should never occur but does occur too often in this country. Learning to drive a car, owning a car, getting caught for speeding at least once in your life is all considered to be a "rite of passage". Any suggestion of raising the age at which people are legally allowed to drive brings about howls of rage. How dare anyone even suggest it? Think of all those poor young things who won't be able to get to work and sport and, perhaps, school.
We need to stop thinking like that.
I went past one of the local high schools yesterday. There was the staff car park. There was the student car park. I don't know a lot about cars but there didn't seem to be a lot of difference. There were some "old bangers" in the student car park but there were also what looked to be like some good cards.
The school has a fairly ordinary middle class catchment area. There are about 800 students in the school. At least 600 of those students are too young to have a licence. There were at least 55 cars in the student car park. That's 55 cars for 200 students...say around one in four of them has a car.
I don't own a car. I have never owned a car. I do know a car is expensive to run...and that an "old banger" can be even more expensive to run. How do the students afford it - even if they have a part-time job? They don't of course. Their parents have to be helping. Why do they do that? The excuses are things like "going to work" and "going to sport" and "lack of public transport" and "it's safer".
My brother got a low powered motorbike when he was in his third year at university. He was on his own financially. Our parents didn't contribute a cent towards it. They didn't approve of his purchase either. By then most of his mates had similar vehicles. A few of them had cars but most of them had bikes. They were considered to be cheaper to run and yes, they used to go to and from late lectures at university or when they left the library at closing time - 10pm. My brother never gave anyone a ride. He never had a spare helmet and neither did they. He got caught "speeding" once. The police pulled him over one Saturday night and booked him for, they claimed, doing two and a half miles an hour above the speed limit. The magistrate threw it out because, he said, it wasn't possible to be that accurate from the speedometer of the police car. He told my brother to "be careful". Were the cops just trying to teach a young man a lesson? Probably. If my brother has been caught speeding again then we have never heard about it. Somehow I doubt he has been.
And we were all slightly bemused when my father's cousin was caught speeding. The speed camera took the photograph and, in due course, the fine arrived. Puzzled and very annoyed his cousin challenged the fine. He produced his passport and showed them he was on the other side of the world at the time...and no, the "old banger" was not his - that was a "3" and not an "8" on the licence plate. We often wonder whether the driver of the old banger paid a speeding fine or not. Did it teach the driver a lesson?
But nobody has ever taught the 15yr old. He wasn't considered to be old enough to drive. It's too late now. The damage is done. He has to spend the rest of his life knowing he has killed someone. I wonder how he will react. Will he lose sleep over it? How long will it be before he is released from detention? He's a minor so it won't be too long. How long before he will be back behind the wheel? It won't be too long - even if he isn't doing it legally. It means the rest of us have to be extra vigilant.
We need to stop thinking there is a "right" to drive though. There is no such thing. It's a privilege and a responsibility. Nothing more.
I don't think the young daughter of the woman who was killed will be caught speeding.