EDITORIAL: Decency can’t be delegated

NOT so long ago, Hunter people could gasp in horror at internet videos depicting people in other countries walking past accident victims without even looking.

Hunter people used to be able to say that such things could never happen in our own friendly valley, where people cared about each other and went out of their way to help strangers.

That confidence has been shaken after a road accident that left three damaged cars containing injured victims was bypassed by dozens of impatient motorists. 

The accident, on John Renshaw Drive, near Stanford Merthyr yesterday morning, was anything but inconspicuous. The damaged cars practically blocked one lane of the road, and yet a witness described motorists who had been following close behind simply swerving and driving over the fresh crash debris.

According to the witness, Cardiff man Trevor Smith, he was the only one of dozens of passers by to stop, with traffic only coming to a halt when emergency services arrived.

Mr Smith described one motorist who complained even then of having to stop, expressing unhappiness at the delay to a shopping errand.

According to police, such behaviour is not uncommon. They say many accident witnesses experience a form of shock that may override their judgment.

That may well be true, and yet it seems a remarkably charitable assessment.

In these days of road rage, when many people seem to regard their fellow motorists as either competitors or obstructions, it may be argued that the road has become a dehumanised environment.

That may explain – more than some spontaneous state of shock – why drivers of cars immediately following an accident simply didn’t bother to stop.

For all they knew, whatever assistance they might have been able to offer could have made an enormous difference to the safety and welfare of the accident victims. But they elected not to find out, crunching instead through debris, intent on their own destinations.

Perhaps they simply assumed that somebody else – somebody in less of a hurry, with less urgent business to attend – would do the right and proper thing.

Such delegation of decency is scarcely excusable.

A tacit assumption that our fellow human beings are fundamentally caring people who will help us when we need it is the reassuring bond that binds us in community. 

What happened on John Renshaw Drive yesterday was a frightening glimpse of life as it might be when that bond is discarded as too bothersome a burden to accept.

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