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Before You Get Behind The Wheel This Holiday

Posted by Jane Akre
Friday, May 28, 2010 10:58 AM EST
Category: On The Road
Tags: Traffic Fatalities, Highway Safety, Auto Accidents, Crashes, Injuries, Behind the Wheel, Memorial Day


  • Tom Vanderbilt- “How We Drive” blog
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Web site
  • Walkable and Livable Communities Web site

IMAGE SOURCE/ Traffic accident, New York Times Web page

Opinions On How We Can Do Better

Just as we embark on the beginning of the summer road-trip season, the Opinion page of the New York Times, Friday, May 28, focuses on traffic, specifically traffic accidents.

Why are we willing to tolerate 37,000 fatalities on our nation’s roads each year?

Tom Vanderbilt, a blogger and author of “Traffic” Why We Drive the Way We Do” points to a “societal willingness to tolerate huge number of road deaths every year.”

True, traffic fatalities have fallen in recent years, then again fewer Americans are driving to work. The U.S. spends more on dental research than traffic safety research, one of the reasons that while Canada saw fatalities on the road drop in half from 1979 to 2004, to 2,875, the U.S. death toll dropped 20% in a recent 20 year period.

As the leading cause of death of Americans ages one to 34, traffic deaths are a public health crisis, not a collection of “accidents” he says.

Adrian K. Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that it’s all about speed. It's been proven that speeding contributes to one-third of all traffic fatalities but there is no clamoring for tough enforcement against speeding.

Quite the opposite. Since the national maximum speed limit was repealed in 1995, state after state has raised speed limits, which has cost thousands of lives. Add to that distracted driving with cellphones, though he says cellphone bans in three states do not show they are working to reduce crashes.

Dan Burden talks about designing communities that are focused on people not cars. Walkable areas to access work, stores, schools instead of being car-centric. Burden, of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, points to Vancouver, BC as a place that seamlessly accommodates all users, cars, walkers, mass transit, and cyclists.

Pam Fischer of the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety reports that while some argue traffic crashes are an inevitable part of life - the trade-off of living in a mobile society – she doesn’t accept that.

The vast majority, well of 85 percent, are behavior-related and behavior can be altered. That is a tough sell in a country that believes in the “right” to drive. She reminds us driving in a privilege. Stronger laws coupled with high visibility enforcement and public education can change behavior. #

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