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.
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?