Aug 11, 2014 - FOCUS: SURREY CRASH SURVIVOR WORKS TO CHANGE LANGUAGE OF THE ROAD

Varinder Badh survived the crash that killed her parents and now she is working to change the way we perceive such 'accidents'

Varinder Badh, shown here talking to media outside Surrey court, says when you refer to a traffic crash as an “accident,” it diminishes its seriousness


They say nothing reveals a person's mettle better than their response to tragic circumstances. And things don't get much more tragic than what Varinder Badh has been through.

After surviving a car crash in Newton that killed both of her parents and left her with grave injuries, she doggedly followed the driver responsible for the crash through the courts while undergoing her agonizing physical and emotional recovery.

Then, remarkably, Varinder wrote a PhD thesis - completed with honours - related to her horrific experience in the hope her research might help other people. It earned her a doctorate in social sciences, through Royal Roads University in Victoria.

Her thesis is entitled: "It is No Accident that this is Called an Accident -Vehicular Negligence: A Socio-legal Study of Crime, Law, and Public Safety."

Varinder said her research helped her to heal.

"I felt compelled to provide a voice to those who were no longer able," she explained.

"This continues to be a life-long journey and I only hope that this research will have an impact on the way in which these crimes are discussed, perceived and treated.

"It is a legacy to my parents."

'THIS WAS NOT AN ACCIDENT'

But first, the crash - which Dr. Badh would never call an accident.

It's 1:30 a.m. July 12, 2008. Varinder, 31, her sister Rupi, 27, and their parents Dilbag, 61, and Bakhshish, 60, are driving home from Rupi's engagement party at a local hall when their BMW is rear-ended at high speed by a white Acura TL that had apparently been racing with a black Camaro.

The crash happens in the 8500-block of 128th Street. The Badhs' BMW slams into a telephone pole while the Acura slides on its roof for 100 metres or so before the driver and his passenger bail out.

Rupi, a nurse, had been driving. The road appeared clear, until suddenly she looked back and saw two sets of headlights racing up from behind. No time to react. She was going to tell her passengers to brace themselves, but it was too late.

When Rupi came to, she saw her mom dying in a pool of blood. She crawled out of the window and felt her pulse.

"Mom breathe, breathe," she cried. She checked her dad, no pulse. She tried dragging him out of the car. Varinder - who spent a long time afterward in hospital in intensive care - was unconscious.

Roughly 1,000 mourners attended the funeral service, at Riverside Funeral Home Crematorium.

Raminder Badh, their eldest son, shared his rage as well as his grief at the funeral.

"This was not an accident," he said of the crash.

Ravinder Singh Binning, 27, of Surrey was eventually charged with two counts of dangerous driving causing death, one count of dangerous driving causing bodily harm, and failing to stop at the scene of the crash.

Varinder and her family were beside themselves when they learned he was also charged with dangerous driving, impaired driving, failing to provide a sample, willfully resisting arrest, flight from a peace officer and assault of a peace officer in connection with an incident in Surrey on March 15, 2009, eight months after the Badh crash.

Binning also had other driving-related run-ins with police. He was fined $600 for failing to provide a breath sample and failing to give information about an accident following an incident in Delta on Aug. 8, 2004.

He also received violation tickets for speeding and violating a restriction on his driver's licence for offences in Surrey on Jan. 20, 2001, and for driving prohibited by a traffic control device in Vancouver on March 15, 2005.

Varinder and 13 other family members attended an RCMP press conference, many of them were wearing black T-shirts with a photo of Bakhshish and Dilbag on front, with the caption "vehicular negligence = murder."

Binning, a one-time professional truck driver turned road menace, was sentenced to four years in prison by a Surrey provincial court judge for his role in the Badh hit-and-run crash.

CHANGE IN TERMINOLOGY

As for her subsequent studies, Varinder discovered that more people have died in traffic crashes than in both world wars. And yet, as she noted in the executive summary of her 391-page thesis, the average person still views injury and or fatality from road crashes "as the result of chance or fate, as an act of God, or just bad luck."

She found the primary determinant of this "dismissive attitude towards what is essentially a health and safety epidemic" to be how traffic collisions are labeled.

Referring to crashes as "accidents," she noted, diminishes their seriousness. As terminology affects perception, she maintains, it "minimizes the possible reckless and selfish behaviour that leads to injury and fatality on the roads."

Varinder said the objective of her research was to investigate if current terminology used to describe traffic crashes involving death and injury have some impact on the "nonchalant, or passive" attitudes we have towards these "criminal acts."

She examined language to determine if specific words tend to negate, undermine or dismiss negligent motor vehicle incidents as less than criminal.

"The research determined that in fact the use of soft terms such as accidents leaves an impression that the incidents are chance occurrences, fate, or God's will, rather than perceiving them as preventable," Varinder said.

"Changing language will start to change perception and perhaps society's tolerance towards these types of criminal acts, which will be seen in driving behaviours and consequences for these negligent acts."

Asked what impact she hopes her investigation will have on society, she noted that using the term "accident" removes accountability and "excuses or rationalized the behaviour, thereby deeming it unpreventable and a chance event.

"If we simply change how we speak of these incidents then perhaps we will view them in a more serious light," she said. "If our perception changes, our actions will follow suit."

Varinder said the desired result is for people to view the act of driving as serious, and to take responsibility for our actions. The byproduct of that should be society holding drivers responsible for injury or fatality "to a higher standard" of accountability.

"Subsequently, sentences would reflect the serious nature of these acts. Ultimately, I am hoping that society will refer to injury and fatality on the roads by using the term motor vehicle crash, which should slowly start to change perception and attitudes towards the serious nature of these acts."

There are precedents. Take smoking in public areas, for example.

"Once people understood the health implications, this social activity has become illegal in most public areas and, in general, frowned upon," Varinder noted. "Once people become more educated in the rates of fatality on our roads, dismissal of motor vehicle incidents being seen as isolated events will disappear and accountability will increase."

Varinder said the research process had a powerful impact on her personally considering she was also a participant.

"It was a difficult process," she said. "I was a survivor and the personal impact was significant."

She said victims are often regarded as victims of chance, something she finds "completely frustrating.

"In most cases, if it wasn't for the reckless behaviour of the offender the incident could have been prevented," Varinder said.

"The research for me was a process and journey towards healing, in that I needed to take what is a tragedy and channel that anger into something constructive."

Source: The Now Newspaper


 

Last updated on: 2014-08-11 | Link to this post