Alternative Law Journal
Clare Corbett; Willan Publishing (2003); 237pp; $49.50 softcover.
A significant proportion and a wide variety of all criminal activity involves cars in some way. Car Crime is the first publication to treat such crimes as coherent whole. Its author, Claire Corbett, is the Director of the Centre for Criminal justice Research in the Law Department at Brunei University where she also lectures. She is well qualified to write this book having researched and published primarily in relation to car crime over the last decade.
Car Crime refers primarily to UK legislation and studies; however, ft is also highly relevant to Australia. For what Corbett is interested in is car crime as the byproduct of car culture; a universal culture which does not recognise national boundaries.
The premise of the book is that car crime is a product of car culture. This sounds simple enough until one realises just what Corbett is referring to as 'car crime'. The definition is broadened from a typical one of 'theft of and from vehicles' to basically anything illegal involving motor vehicles. Thus the topics being analysed as a coherent whole include speeding, driver fatigue, abandoning vehicles, joyriding, road rage, and other offences.
Despite its prevalence, and the harm caused, car-related crime has been the subject of minimal theorising by criminologists. Corbett's project is to open up this vast tract of illegal behavior to sustained study and analysis. She succinctly applies a range of individual, social and structural level theories to particular crimes, and to a lesser extent to car crime in general. The project is indeed very ambitious; ft represents a far reaching analysis of the social and political forces that have shaped, and continue to shape, law and policy in relation to motor vehicles.
Corbett defines car culture as 'the twentieth-century phenomenon that now dominates lives in western society and threatens to envelop those in developing countries' (190). This dominating force has radically altered our social and physical landscapes, and has caused people to become 'practically and emotionally dependent on cars' (13). Corbett forcefully argues that the pre eminence of cars and the right to drive them provides for an underlying discourse where 'the social mobility of the masses is considered more salient than the byproducts of harm to the unfortunate victims and their families' (29). As such, driving-related offences are often viewed as not 'real crime'.
While car ownership is now enjoyed by the masses, a century ago it was the privilege of the elite. Corbett argues that self-interest of the elite, who drove cars and legislated, affected the original traffic laws; thus downplaying dangerous driving actions, their 'accidental' consequences and sanctions for breaches. While once it was the elite nature of motor vehicles which sheltered drivers from serious reprimand, it is now their widespread ownership which stymies genuine reform. It is politically quite difficult to criminalise motorists. The media plays a role in typifying ordinary drivers as 'victimised' and 'outraged'. It is not unusual to hear speed cameras referred to as 'revenue raisers'. Corbett points to neoliberalism as promoting car dependency and in tum maintaining perception of driving offences as being minor.
The stated purpose of the book is to bring together diverse and varied information on car crime as a basis for further exploration (190). Corbett achieves this in an accessible and clear fashion. Throughout the text Corbett addresses the development of the law and places the motor car in its political, social and historical context. Over the past century car culture has enmeshed itself into the dominant culture of societies across the globe. This book provides a number of insights into how our reliance on cars has shaped the way these cultures have criminalised certain actions involving them.
GEORGE SEYMOUR is an articled clerk in Hervey Bay, Queensland.