Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Go Ahead, Ignore Me . . .

     But only at your own peril.

     The problem is always there, almost anywhere in America, but it is more starkly drawn for me when I drive one of the most perilous stretches of American highway -- which is I95 from Richmond, Va., up through Washington, Baltimore, and on to the Delaware Memorial Bridge.

     It's a problem the presidential candidates totally ignore. So do senators and congressmen. They turn a blind eye to this biggest threat to the American public -- as does the public itself.

     That problem is the lawlessness on the roads of the United States -- the refusal of the American public to obey traffic laws, and the inability of authorities to enforce traffic laws. So drivers speed. They tailgate, pass on the right, talk on the phone, change lanes without signaling. See my recent post Close Call on I78 if you don't believe me.

     They do it all with impunity, and with the belief that they are not doing anything wrong, that they are not hurting anybody -- and besides, they are in a hurry. Some people brag about it, like my neighbor who laughs off the speeding tickets he has received over the years, as he makes a game of trying to cut his commute time from 33 minutes to 31 minutes. Or the woman I met at a recent party who cursed the cops on the Taconic State Parkway because they'd given her a ticket for going 70 mph in a 55 mph zone . . . then she smirked and admitted she was really going closer to 80.

     You may think I'm joking, or just crazy. But the most lethal problem facing us today is not Iraq or Afghanistan. It is not AIDS or terrorism or even guns. It is the American roads. For the roads kill far more innocent people than any of those more-publicized threats.

     According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, traffic fatalities were actually going down for over a decade, due in large part to seatbelt use, the availability of airbags, and the effort to reduce drunk driving. However, between 2014 and 2015 fatalities increased by 7.2 percent, from 32,744 to 35,092. People injured in auto crashes -- including children, old ladies and everyone else -- climbed from 2.34 million to 2.44 million.

     This year the numbers look even worse. For the first half of 2016 auto fatalities went up from 16,100 to 17,775, or an increase of 10.4 percent.

     This death toll dwarfs American casualties suffered in the Middle East. It makes war in the Middle East seem insignificant. There have been 4,800 Americans killed in over ten years of conflict in Iraq. In Afghanistan 2,344 Americans have lost their lives. Of course, any premature death is a tragedy. But why have so much ink and airtime and personal angst gone into the fewer than 10,000 Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, while virtually no one cares about the hundreds of thousands killed on American roads?

     Compare auto deaths to AIDS, which at its peak in 1995 took 41,699 lives. At its worst, AIDS took about as many lives as an average year on the American roads. But then, since 1995, deaths from AIDS dropped to 6,955 by 2013. Would that the automobile epidemic had half as good a cure.

     How do car crashes compare to guns? According to the CDC, between 2000 and 2010, a total of 335,609 people died from guns, including homicides, suicides and accidents. In dramatizing the issue, the CDC points out that is more than the population of St. Louis or Pittsburgh or Orlando. It's more than 85 people every day, killed by firearms.

     But over the same period 444,648 died in car accidents. That's more than the population of Cleveland or Omaha or Minneapolis. Or more than 110 people every day, killed in car crashes.

     So why is everyone up in arms about guns, but they steer clear of the issue of the mishandling of automobiles?

     A couple of years ago I got a ticket for sneaking through a red light in Orlando, FL. They caught me on camera. It annoyed the hell out of me. But maybe it's time to get serious about the traffic laws, even if it does cause us inconvenience, even if it does slow us down a bit. Because  . . . does it really matter whether your commute takes 31 minutes or -- horrors! -- all of 33 minutes?


Snowbrush said...

I've gotten to where I don't even want to go anywhere for the reasons you cited.

Barbara - said...

I'd buy the speed issue more if other countries with higher speeds didn't have lower incidences of accidents of all countries. In my experience most accidents are caused by distraction, god complexes (im going to just drive right through all those people), or the believe that you'll make everyone go your speed if it kills you (sitting in the left lane). And of course, alcohol.

Every single accident I as a fast driver has experienced had to do with slowere drivers sitting in the left lane, people not using hand singnals and people using two lanes to turn. Even my son can turn a right in his Chevy Silverado without swinging into the lane next to his to do so.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Cars can kill. They are more lethal than anything out there.

DJan said...

I still drive to places sometimes, but if I can I take the bus, because then I don't have to be in the line of fire, so to speak, and when I get to where I'm going I don't have to find a parking place. Very good post, and it does make me wonder why it's taken for granted that it's normal. It's not normal.

Stephen Hayes said...

I don't enjoy driving and have seen far too many incidences of road rage.

Tabor said...

While I sympathize I think the most serious problem we face today is the appointment of members to SCOTUS..Bar none.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't even on the freeway today yet still witnessed some very scary driving. Two people blew through RED (not kind of red) lights, and one driver ignored a stop sign. This, of course, doesn't include many people on cell phones and those just generally driving too fast. Oh, and California just approved the recreational use of marijuana. Yikes!

wen budro said...

Thank you for the great post. I don't know why this subject isn't discussed more often. I've hated driving for decades......I avoid it whenever I can.

Still the Lucky Few said...

People don't seem to be talking about something that may be just over the horizon—driverless cars. The technology is already in place, driverless cars exist, and refinements are being made as we speak. Whereas I shudder to think of the implications for our automotive industry, and the loss of jobs, I think once they are in the mainstream, human-caused accidents will be dramatically reduced. I've written about this in my blog, and will continue to explore it. Automation is here—it's fascinating and frightening as well!

Tom Sightings said...

Tabor, while I understand your concern, no Supreme Court judge is going to kill me tomorrow ... or probably ever. But one careless or angry driver can wipe me off of the face of the earth before morning commute is over.

Barbara. Road fatalities by various countries, per 100k vehicles in 2013 (before they started going up again):

the U. S rate was 12.

In Europe the rates were:
Albania = 107.2
Russia = 53.4
Montenegro = 36.8
Belarus = 32.9
Romania = 31.4
Hungary = 20.7
Poland = 15.8
Portugal = 13.7
Belgium = 10.7
Czech Rep. = 8.5
France = 7.6
Germany = 6.8
Denmark = 6.7
U. K. = 5.1

By Contrast, in the Americas:
Honduras = 1021.7
Ecuador = 183.8
Nicaragua = 164.3
Cuba = 133.7
Paraguay = 114.7
Colombia = 83.3
Brazil = 50 .3
Mexico = 43
Canada = 9.5

I'm sure there area lot of factors determining the widely divergent auto death rates, from road conditions to poorly maintained cars, from lack of training to ... excessive speed for the conditions. So to stay alive, we should all maintain our cars, obey traffic signs ... and not drive too fast (which also burns more fuel, sending more global warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere).

Anonymous said...

Cell phones being used by drivers today is totally out of control. Just yesterday I saw a guy driving a semi-rig looking at this cell phone with his left hand! I so wish I could have gotten his company name, license plate #, but I never take my 2 hands off the wheel & didn't have a passenger to write it down for me. This was OUTRAGEOUS! WHEN WILL IT STOP????? Sick to death of idiot, self-centered, maniac drivers in this country.

Anonymous said...

Barb- you might stop and think about your driving habits if you have been in more then one accident. ;) I tend to be on the slower side and have (knock on wood) never been in an accident. 90% of the accidents I have seen have been because of excessive speed or distraction. Sometimes a combination of both.
When we drove in Germany the fear of God was put into you. The fines were outrageous, the training was expensive (about $1500), and extensive (including first aide). and the polizi had the right to drag you out of a car and beat you up...a bit different then a normal US person cruising these days.
I agree- I am much more afraid that I will die in an auto then a terrorist act. Statistically, I have been blessed so far.
Looking forward to driverless cars! The Jetsons!

Dick Klade said...

Right on,Tom. Lots of crazy stuff happening on our streets and highways. The biggest problem I observe here are truckers speeding in right-hand lanes on interstates or other multi-lane highways. They cause all kinds of problems for other vehicles and seem to be involved in more than their share of accidents. It would seem highway patrols could take care of this with a flock of tickets, yet that is not happening. How is our Michigan legislature helping? Bills with a good chance of passing have been introduced to INCREASE highway speed limits. Go figure.

Olga Hebert said...

When I was commuting to my work I would often wonder what kind of wonderful jobs other people had since they were in such a darn hurry to get there. Now hat I am retired, I am even more likely to putter along at the speed limit. I enjoy waving and saying, "you're welcome," to those who have been impatiently but unsuccessfully trying to pass on a certain twisty road were most often there is a police car in a hidden pull off. But sometimes I just pull over and let them whiz by.

Tom Sightings said...

Driverless cars might be a good idea but we have a long way to go. I have warning systems in my 2015 Honda and many times it flashes Brake! Brake Brake! when the nearest car is a quarter mile away. Other times it's completely silent when I get too close. Then ... where's the system that brakes the other guy tailgating me so close I can't even see his headlights?!?

olynjyn said...

I agree with you about the lawlessness of the driving public. As i already mentioned in the Comments of your 1-78 blog, I travel 1-81 every day to work and in bad weather it is amazing to me that we don't have more accidents because the trucks fill the roads and proceed as if there is nothing happening weather-wise. Twice I have stopped at intersections in Harrisburg and had someone come to my window and beat on it and shout at me. I was blindsided both times by their rage and won't drive downtown because of never knowing if you will be attacked. I also have never enjoyed driving because I get so sleepy for some reason. I'm sure we are surrounded by sleepy drivers everyday and with the added distraction of electronics we are lucky to survive any trip.

Anonymous said...

Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including nearly 42,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. This is about one in five deaths annually, or 1,300 deaths every day.

If it's not exciting or horrendous, it doesn't seem to register.

One plane crash and the whole world seems petrified of flying, but it's still one of the safest ways to travel

Anonymous said...

Speeding is just stupid,a s are the other idiotic things you describe. A great article Tom, and a subject we ned to dwell on more.
I drive short distances these days, and drive like the old lady I am. Each time I go out, I encounter another damn fool. My dughter says, come visit, but they are 75 miles south of DC and I told her it was easier to fly to California, which I did.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

You're so right, Tom! Excellent post! Rogue drivers are a much greater danger to us personally than almost anything or anyone. I see speeding and stupid risk-taking all the time, especially when I drive from my new home in Arizona to visit friends and family in Los Angeles. Just generalizing: traveling the rural roads of Arizona on a daily basis, I encounter some speeders, but mostly polite drivers. I brave myself for Los Angeles -- where I drove in heavy traffic for many, many years. People speed, change lanes without signaling, cut people off and do other risky, aggressive driving moves. It's horrifying. Even though I go back several times a year, it always shocks me at how heavy and treacherous the traffic is. And, even in near gridlock, there's no reason to be rude or take risks not worth taking. You're so right about the insanity of cutting a 33 minute commute to 31, putting himself and others in danger!

Barbara - said...

Janette, I have not been in an accident caused by me since 1968. And I was NEVER in an accident on the Capital beltway or I-95 in the twenty years. I also never had an accident of any kind on the autobahn in my total of fifteen years there. My accident have always been caused by poor (not fast necessarily driving), and my defensive driving saved my life at least once. I have been hit by a college student looking at girls and did not see me stop ahead, by a person wh went through a solid red light, and by a young man who saw someone stop in front of him and instead of stopping, decided to swerve into the left (my lane) without looking or slowing down from 60. I saved my life very likely b y that time by seeing it ahead of time and heading towards the grassy median although he still did unblievable damage.

While Idont encourage folks to speed and I do follow the speed limits within five miles on the local roads, I do go between five and ten miles over the speed limite on highways and other roads and have never had a problem, I drive for the conditions anda the traffic.

I do agree that many tings in this world are more of an issue tan terrorism, including heart health, accidents and guns, which no one ever mentions in this discussion.