Do you ever get that thing where you’re reading something in the paper and a throwaway phrase not directly related to the article sends such a chill through your soul that the rest of the article is momentarily forgotten? I had one of those this afternoon reading a story about a woman who died in Queensland in a street luge accident. My bold:
A 50-year-old woman and mother, who is a respected IT executive in the Brisbane community, has been killed riding a luge board down Mt Cootha this morning.
The woman, who was travelling downhill at high speed, has gone too wide on a corner and tried to brake, losing control and sliding into a guard rail.
Acting Inspector Chris Pemberton said the woman was luging, or street-sledding, down Sir Samuel Griffiths Drive around 6.15am when she lost control of her board and crashed against a guardrail on the north side of the mountain.
Acting Inspector Pemberton said luge was a restricted activity and required a permit, and it is believed the two riders involved this morning had not been granted permission for the activity that led to the tragedy.
Now up to the last paragraph I quoted there I was thinking how sad it was that someone had died doing something they enjoyed and that 50 is no age to go and what a tragedy it is for her family. But then I saw the phrase ‘a restricted activity’ being dropped in there without comment, like it’s no big deal that being a restricted activity. Like it doesn’t matter because there are so many restricted activities what with there being so many things that are potentially lethal (unlike life itself, which is certainly and unavoidably lethal). Like our governments – and don’t think for one moment it’s just Queensland or Australia – believe we’re incapable of deciding anything for ourselves anymore, even to the point where they want to be involved in our diets in case we choose a cheeseburger over a salad. And like the infantilisation of adults in western nations hasn’t been going on long enough to mean that sometimes they’re half right.
That’s the greater tragedy in this article.: the unspoken assumption that there are restricted activities that us proles may only take part in with permission from the nannies, and that there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not saying that street luge is safe or sensible on public roads when someone’s just died doing it and the whole idea of lying on an oversized skateboard and rolling under gravity down a hill that fat Aussie cars and utes are coming up under power is sufficiently cuckoo to keep the Bavarian clock making industry going for decades. No, I’m not disputing the Acting Inspector (who sounds like someone employed by RADA with the power to fine people for hamming it up) when he says that street luge and public roads aren’t a good combo.
But lots of things aren’t a good idea. Are you telling me that there’s no other option but to have a list, no doubt growing all the time, of restricted activities? Clearly when it can affect someone else it’s not just down to the person doing the restricted activity, and in the case of street luging there’s the obvious question of what happens if they collide with another road user. The obvious answer is that someone whose head is at wheel hub height is probably going to come off worst and is quite likely to come off dead, but the other person may have damage to their vehicle or bike and may even kill themselves trying to avoid a luger, and I don’t know if many have third party damage insurance. But isn’t there tort law for that kind of thing, and isn’t there some very basic road law that covers the use of inappropriate vehicles? For heaven’s sake, if under Australian laws a bicycle is legally a vehicle when ridden on public roads how can a street luge not be? And if cyclists can be fined, and heavily, for not having lights or wearing a helmet – again, not having a helmet really affects only that individual but nonetheless places cycling in the restricted activities category – much less running red lights or disobeying other road rules, then why not someone on a street luge?
I really can’t see any reason why this kind of thing can’t be dealt with by something rather less Orwellian than keeping a list of restricted activities, but sadly I suspect that so many people will have read that article and not had that creepy phrase leap off the page at them and scream in their faces that adopting a simpler approach, for instance just prosecuting and fining the idiots and fuckups and letting people who can do something without affecting other risk their own necks as they choose, is probably a vain hope.