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Kevin Myers: 'Our society must stop celebrating lives of reckless car-crash teens'

It is simply wrong to treat the death of a teenager who dies out of voluntary recklessness with the same ceremonials of grief as those for the victim of leukaemia

There are several reasons why we should all be grateful that seven young people escaped without serious injury after their five-seater Opel Astra crashed at 4.45am last Monday morning in Mayo.

The first is the most obvious; these young people are alive, and their loved ones have much cause for relief. But equally, we are not now going to be subject to a serial display of funereal sentimentality, as some priest eulogises over the dead, and simpers how much the late victim loved cars, and how he adored racing, and what a great little speedster had been taken from us just as he was about to reach his impetuous prime.

The minds of the immature have been repeatedly told in recent times that if something untoward should happen to them while they're driving at lunatic speeds in an overcrowded car at 4.45am, their funerals will nonetheless be great celebrations of their lives. Communities will mourn, while their names will be on everyone's lips. And better still, the funeral obsequies will be broadcast on RTE radio, allowing listeners to agree what a great tragedy it was, and those poor young lives! Taken so early! What a terrible accident!

Sorry, wrong. These multiple teenage deaths are not accidents. They are crashes that are actuarially certain to happen -- whether they turn into mass-homicides is merely a matter of chance.

Now, it's possible that adult society can do nothing whatever about every single individual group of teenagers cramming into cars at 2am and joyriding around rural back-roads until the inexperienced driver misses a bend. But after that, adult society should then take over, and impose adult rules. These are -- or rather should be -- part of a culture that does not sentimentalise, and that imposes its will by stern measures. By exacting punishment, the law should send a very clear message to any other 2am devil-may-care youngsters. Not merely should the driver be banned from driving, for anything from a decade to life, but so too should his passengers (and we are always talking about male drivers in these matters).

In other words, we have to create an expectation that the consequences for passengers could outlast the duration of this little trip, into the rest of their lives. For they are all involved in a conspiracy to drive dangerously, and must answer accordingly.

So much for the law; but what about society? Well, I do understand that it is difficult for the few remaining Catholic priests to court unpopularity by being seen to be sober and austere at funerals, particularly since public displays of sentimentality and emoting are almost obligatory at almost all such affairs these days. Moreover, to expect a stern and unbendingly principled line on anything from those broken, vacant-looking survivors of Krakatoa, the Catholic bishops of Ireland, is also perhaps a little ambitious. But still, someone has to draw the line. Maybe the Church of Ireland should set the tone. For communities that half-celebrate the deaths of the semi-suicidal are, by that very deed, making it more likely that further semi-suicidal acts by other young people could follow.

For we know this now about human conduct. Many kinds of behaviour inspire emulation -- from serial killing, to suicides, to lethal joy-riding. We know, moreover, that a death cult can easily take root amongst the impressionable, whereby both suicidal and quasi-suicidal behaviour becomes acceptable.

Very well then. So let adult society reinforce the law with a social taboo, one that is not cruel in execution, but is nonetheless unmistakably austere. Because it is simply wrong to treat the death of the teenager who dies out of a purely voluntary recklessness with the same ceremonials of grief, perplexity and unfairness as those we usually reserve for the victim of leukaemia or lightning strike. Indeed, such posthumous ceremonials for the undeserving can only serve as a glamorous inducement for yet more anti-social and semi-murderous behaviour.

Simple and ceremony-free funerals for those who have sought death would be a right (though admittedly difficult) approach to take, even at the best of times. But we are now heading for the worst of times, as economic collapse, unemployment and social disintegration await communities everywhere. Which is the very reason why we have to create socially enforced norms that operate alongside the law, and that place a mark of public disapproval upon those kinds of behaviour that might become attractive in recession. Such behaviour, obviously, would include young people crowding into a tiny car at midnight to risk their lives by driving at high speed.

Might not passengers have second thoughts about getting into such a vehicle if they knew the price to be paid if they were stopped was a certain ban from driving well into adulthood? And who would think such behaviour was cool if young people KNEW that the funerals that awaited the dead of delinquent car-crashes would be austere, flowerless and without respectful obsequy, and most of all, would never be broadcast with presidential solemnity on RTE?

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Social exclusion would certainly be the reward for young people if they engaged in sex acts on the main street at noon. Why is driving down that same main street at murderous speed at midnight so much less reprehensible?