Thursday, August 24, 2006

Blood on the highway

We are approaching the fifth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. 3,000 people lost their lives on that horrible day. Could you imagine what it would be like if the United States suffered a September 11th - like event every 25 days or so?

In terms of the number of lives lost, that is exactly what is happening on our nation's highways every year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 43,443 people were killed on the nation's highways in 2005. This is up 1.4 percent from the 42.8 thousand people killed in traffic wrecks in 2004, and is the highest annual highway death toll since 1990. An increase in pedestrian and motorcycle fatalities is blamed for the increase; here's a chart that breaks down the fatalities by mode.

In fairness, it needs to be pointed out that, in spite of this death toll, our highways are about as safe as they have ever been. The average fatality rate per miles traveled is slightly lower today that it was a decade ago (1.48 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled today as opposed to 1.73 deaths per 100 million VMT in 1995) and is much lower than it was in the 1950s and 1960s, when the average fatality rate sat somewhere between 5 and 6 deaths per 100 million VMT.

Nevertheless, 43 thousand people needlessly died on our nation's roads and highways last year. That is a ponderous toll, and one that doesn't get a lot of attention:
Safety groups said more attention should be placed on traffic issues, arguing that a single airplane crash could lead to public outcries while more than 40,000 deaths on the roads fail to generate much response.
That's true, which is why I likened last year's highway death toll to the equivalent of a 9/11 event every 25 days: it puts this unspoken carnage in a different perspective. Perhaps, if people were made more aware of the sheer volume of death occuring on our nation's roads every year, they might be a little more careful in their own driving habits.

Over half of all automobile passengers who died last year were not wearing a seat belt. So buckle up and drive safely.

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