One hundred and six: Drinking and Driving
Steve: Hi, Jill.
Jill: Hi, Steve.
Steve: Do you know what I want to talk about today?
Jill: I can't wait to hear.
Steve: I'm going to talk about language learning and drunken driving.
Jill: Alright, interesting.
Steve: It's pretty obvious how the two are connected, right?
Steve: I'll tell you why, because yesterday in the newspaper here I read in the Canadian paper that a person was stopped by the police for drunken driving just north of Toronto and so he was charged by the police. He appeared before a judge and the judge dismissed the charges, because this particular driver was a Spanish speaker and the police did not bring in an interpreter to explain to this driver what was happening.
Jill: So, you're allowed to break the law? As long you are not explained in your language what you've done wrong you can break the law?
Steve: I mean I was just absolutely floored. Often we joke, like if I'm in another country and I'm stopped for speeding, all I have to do is say “me no speaka' the language” and somehow I'll get off. Well, in most cases, you don't get off.
Jill: No, not at all.
Steve: It's just extraordinary and what strikes me here is, you know, you shouldn't be able to get a license to drive if you don't understand (A) that you're not supposed to drink and drive and (B) if a policeman approaches you, you should be able to communicate with the policeman.
Jill: At least a little bit.
Steve: At least a little bit. That's extraordinary and, of course, here in Canada we bend over backwards…there's a good English expression “bend over backwards”.
Jill: Go out of our way.
Steve: You can take your “Oh, you don't speak English? What do you speak?” Some obscure dialect from gosh knows where. Oh well then, we'll try and help you take your driver's license and pass the test in your language. At what point is the responsibility on the individual? I better learn enough English so that I can understand the road signs so that if I'm lost I can ask, you know, for directions.
Jill: I mean I don't know this for sure and you might know more than I do, but I would suspect in countries like Japan and many other countries in the world that's how it is. You need to probably learn about…
Steve: I mean I don't know, I'm sure in many countries you can get a driver's license without speaking the local language. However, if I've been drinking and let's say I'm in – it doesn't matter – Japan, China, Malaysia, Bolivia and a policeman stops me and shows me a breathalyzer I know what he's talking about, right?
Steve: To introduce this idea that I was not explained my rights in my language is just a silly technicality. The reality is that that person is doing something that is not only against the law, but it's extremely dangerous.
Jill: He's putting other people's lives at risk.
Steve: At risk.
Jill: So why are his rights more important than all of those people that he's putting at risk?
Steve: And what is a right? Where are his responsibilities in this thing? He is being irresponsible by drinking and driving. He is being irresponsible by not knowing enough and, of course, he, undoubtedly, knew enough English. I mean this is his lawyer jumping in there and saying poor Juan here didn't quite understand. He thought the policeman was asking him, you know, whether he had halitosis or something. Come on, he knew.
Steve: And, of course, in the case of driving under the influence of alcohol, by the time the policeman finds an interpreter and brings them there, perhaps the alcohol content and so forth will be less and it gives them a sobering-off period.
Jill: Of course.
Steve: I mean the whole thing is completely ridiculous. Now, we at LingQ are going to approach the police departments across Canada and see if we can teach them every possible language that they're likely to encounter. But, in fact, we should be teaching the immigrants to speak English. It's just so typical of what goes on in our society. Basically, what it boils down to is the lawyers looking to make money, period. I personally don't think that judges should be chosen from amongst lawyers, because there's a conflict of interest. They're all interested in creating more work for their brethren, sisters and brothers, in the legal community.
Jill: Because in Canada I believe all judges are former lawyers.
Jill: And they are appointed, we don't vote.
Jill: In the states the public, I think, votes for judges, but not here.
Steve: Well, exactly, we should. I mean the technicalities of the law; all of these laws have been written by lawyers and they're all complicated and so forth -- it's a bit like grammar and language learning – and may have nothing to do with common sense.
Steve: And so, really, it's nice. Like I think if we wanted to get a detailed legal opinion, we should outsource that to India with lots of people to speak English. They'd be delighted to learn Canadian law and they would give us an interpretation based on the technicalities of the law. We could hire 10 of them for the price of one Canadian lawyer and then the judge should be someone with common sense who need not be a lawyer. It could be an electrician, it could be a housewife, it could be, you know, a doctor or somebody who runs a gas station, it doesn't matter, somebody with some common sense, because this judge, obviously, had no common sense.
Jill: No. Steve: So then I go back and I see another situation with drunken driving where there was a very popular Canadian hockey player, former professional hockey player, who lives in the states, because that's where he had his career. He was in Canada driving with his very good friend, he had had too much to drink, he had an accident and he killed his friend; tragic story. Obviously, the driver was very irresponsible to drive when drunk. His friend was also irresponsible to get in the car with him.
Jill: Exactly. Steve: It's one thing when you hit someone else, but if you get in a car with someone who's drunk you're also responsible at some level. Jill: Of course. Steve: And, of course, in nine cases out of ten a person who drives while under the influence doesn't have an accident, but there's a greater likelihood of having an accident. Jill: Of course, yeah.
Steve: And, of course, there was a tragic accident. Now, this person got four years in jail and the judge says we're going to make an example of this. I mean I see cases where you have repeat offenders for driving under the influence and who have even caused accidents and death who don't get four years in prison.
Jill: I know people. The baby-boomer generation, that of my parents, is full of people who at least used to drink and drive. A lot of my step-dad's friends drank and drove a lot and received tickets on numerous occasions and received 24-hour suspensions and never even went to court, never went to jail, lots of the time never even had their license suspended and that was after several times.
Steve: Now, it all becomes much worse if you hit someone and cause an accident and, even worse, cause a death.
Jill: But why do you have to wait until the person kills somebody?
Steve: Absolutely, so I think there's just this tremendous lack of proportion here. One person has his…granted, he killed his friend and the family of the friend were very forgiving. They said this is the nicest man and a very good citizen and it's his first offense. It's a tremendous tragedy, but we don't want him to suffer anymore than he has suffered. That's the family of the person who died. But the judge says no, I'm going to make an example of this person to teach everybody, okay. This other person -- we're told can't speak English; I don't believe it -- he gets off scot-free.
Jill: Yeah. Steve: There's just absolutely no… Jill: Not even a suspension or a fine or anything.
Steve: Exactly. Jill: That's ridiculous. Steve: That's why I say that today's discussion is about the relationship between language learning and drunken driving. If you are going to drive drunk, which we don't recommend at all, don't let on that you speak the local language. That's not even funny, you know; that's not even funny.
Jill: No, we shouldn't joke about that.
Steve: I think that people who drive under the influence of alcohol are…if it's only their own lives, fine. I mean not fine, but whatever, but they are risking the lives of other people. Whenever I drive on the highway I think wow, if there's somebody coming at me at an intersection or whatever that's drunk and doesn't know what they're doing and slams into me I'm defenseless.
Jill: Yeah. Steve: I'm helpless, so. Jill: Especially when it's later at night I have those thoughts more often. If it's 11:00 or 12:00 at night you just assume that people who are out later have maybe been drinking more. I do the same thing; I just look at everybody coming towards me and wonder.
Steve: Exactly. Alright, well not a very happy subject, but it does have a language learning angle. Jill: You'll always find one anyway.
Steve: We always find one, okay.
Jill: Thank you.
Steve: Bye, Jill.