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.
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.
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.