We’re at War and Most of Us Don’t Seem to Care

Last Sunday’s New York Times article, “It’s No Accident: Advocates Want to Speak of Car ‘Crashes’ Instead,” hit the nail on the head by suggesting that people, not some intergalactic demonic force, are responsible for all but 6% of the 38,000 roadway fatalities in 2015. What’s behind the 6% not driver-related statistic you ask? Mechanical problems, weather…and perhaps a rampaging moose or two. That’s about it.
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What’s even more discouraging is that the 2015 figure is a full 8% higher than the previous year despite the hundreds of millions that have gone into vehicle safety systems over the past quarter century. Perhaps this is one of the issues involved…the belief that these systems render vehicle occupants bulletproof. But whatever you want to believe, the issue is not tied to external factors: it is people little different from you and me, except for the immutable fact that they are dead and we still get to have a say in what happens to us out there on the road.

So here we looking at thirty-eight thousand fatalities and no guarantee that 2016 is going to be better, yet where are the raging protests, banner-bedecked parades, fist-waving politicians, even crusading journalists screaming bloody murder that this senseless carnage has got to stop?

Face it, the last time we saw more than 1% of our citizenry take to the street in righteous anger was during the Vietnam War whose high watermark in 1968 saw 16,899 battlefield deaths, fewer than half those carted away from our highways and byways in each of the years since the 1930s. In fact, if you aggregate all the combat deaths from the Korean War (33,739), the 20 years of our involvement in Vietnam (47,424), the 15 years of strife in the Middle East (5,269), and the 612 combat deaths in another 20 conflicts since the end of WWII with which we’ve been involved—a grand total of 87,034—the number, horrible as it is, pales by comparison with the 2,924,075 who have died on our roads during the same period. Yes, that’s a body count just slightly shy of 3 million.

About the best you can say about the most recent statistic is that it beats the heyday of mass vehicular slaughter—1980 when 51,091 motorists hit the record books, and it wasn’t until 2008 that we saw the number fall below 40,000, the probable result of our economic downturn.

So what to do about it?

In my humble opinion, you get serious about what it takes to get a driver’s license, something comparable to what other nations such as Germany, England, France, Japan, and Sweden require. Ditto automobile licensing. Then look at how our penalties for infractions—including drunk driving—stack up with others and ask whether our lackadaisical approach to highway safety makes sense.

Yes, our roads and bridges are deteriorating. Yes we’ve got more cars on them than ever before, clear signals that things are apt to get worse before they improve. Yet, now we are embarking on an adventure in which the mad dash into marijuana legalization is almost certain to play an even greater role in highway mischief than before…the foundation of a belief that has already been unambiguously demonstrated in Washington and Colorado.

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Thirty years ago there was a movement headed by an organization known as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) that had a brief but effective day in the sun before the nation found itself more comfortable with mayhem than sobriety. Perhaps what we need now is a revitalization of the movement—only this time let’s call it CADD…Citizens Against Dumb Driving, with serious sanctions capable of getting through even to meatheads that driving is a privilege not a right.

Or maybe it’s time for us all to follow Howard Beale’s plea that we open our windows to shout, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this carnage anymore!” In fact, if you can think of a better answer, how about sharing it with the rest of us. MSW_bug_web

Comments
  • Roland Rusnell.

    Thank you John for another thought provoking editorial. This is a free society, but can we say it is a just society when 10’s of thousands of innocent, otherwise healthy people are lost every year in accidents (implying unintended events) that are 100% preventable? In a workplace, the job would be shut down until corrective actions are determined and applied; what measures can realistically be taken that is not seen as fascist or Orwellian?

    Reply
    • John T.

      Thank you Roland. It is a tough situation with all the different ‘stakeholders’ awaiting the chance to beat back any genuinely effective approach to the problem. As I said in the blog, I think we need to really tighten down on licensing requirements for both drivers and vehicles, since neither is by any stretch of the imagination ‘a right,’ or that substandard performance should be effectively sanctioned by lowest-common-denominator requirements.
      How do we fight the situation? Perhaps it really is a matter of following the Howard Beale approach and get the public to yell louder to their legislators than some of the activist groups do. But perhaps people are satisfied that with something in the neighborhood of only 1 chance in 30,000 of becoming a roadkill this year, opening the window and shouting seems hardly worth the effort.

      Reply
  • tim ho.

    You might consider expanding your Citizens Against Dumb Driving ‘war’ to include the daily deaths caused by utility, enclosed cargo, livestock, boat, farm, and other such small trailers that kill. No lights required in several States allowing Dumb Drivers to run up and over trailers, many trailers uncoupling to become unguided rolling missiles in search of buildings or bodies to molest (numerous police officers expire because of unsafely constructed or units never maintained.) I ramble on so … go see Ron Melacon’s web pages (Ron: dusterrm1@comcast.net) DangerousTrailers . org ; plenty of older stuff at http://www.old.dangeroustrailers.org/

    Reply
    • John T.

      Time,
      there is plenty of room in my CADD movement for perpetrators of all manner of vehicular nonsense.

      Reply
  • Kirk Hipps.

    Driving in the UK, I was amazed at the level of skill displayed by their drivers. My son, who was studying there for 4 years, explained that their tests are much more stringent. They really stress certain skill levels and make sure that their drivers know how to navigate traffic circle (for instance) and, if they don’t display the level of skill required, they don’t get licensed. Drivers were more alert and courteous and you did not see all of the cell phone usage that you see here. You have to be more engaged there as the roads are often more narrow and winding.

    Reply
    • John T.

      Bingo, Kirk. I also think that the roads themselves–often narrow and twisty–demand a level of situational awareness our broader/straighter highways do.

      Reply
  • Jim Hinton.

    Wow, what a total misread of the situation in Colorado. Colorado has a booming economy due to marijuana cash getting poured into the state’s economic system. The biggest downside has been elevated housing prices. The slaughter that was to result from marijuana legalization has not materialized. There were two deaths very early on, both related to people becoming excessively inebriated on edibles as well as alcohol. Many people in high places including Colorado’s own governor told the citizens that they had created a disaster when the referendum legalized marijuana. The projected disaster has not occurred, and much benefit has been derived from marijuana legalization.

    Reply
    • John T.

      Jim,
      the information on which I based my concern indicated a drug-related increase in traffic deaths, but perhaps it is as you say, incorrect. I’d like to hear from others on this.

      Reply
  • Vince Kranz.

    I beg to differ with the author’s conclusion that a national licensing approach as is seen in many European countries is a solution. We live in a constitutional republic that places the responsibility for regulating driving and licensing in the hands of the states. If the residents of state feel that stricter licensing requirements are warranted, it is up to them to encourage their legislatures to make those changes, not the Federal government. I for one have no interest or desire to shift our national government more to the European mold. The federal government already carries a big hammer to make the states do what ever it happens to think is appropriate at the time. While it is tragic that people die in motor vehicle accidents, the US national rate is amongst the lowest in the world at around 1 death per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. It has been decreasing consistently since 1980. Even the state with the worst rate (Montana) is better than most countries. The data would not support a statement that we have a lackadaisical approach to highway safety. Can it be better, probably, but at what cost?

    Reply
    • John T.

      Thank you for the correction, Vince. I didn’t mean to suggest a Federal licensing, only that our licensing demands throughout the US are not up to the standards they should be in my opinion.

      Reply

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