Consider the following statistic:
As a planning and transportation geek, I understand that each year, in the United States, about 35,000 people are killed in plane crashes and about 2,000,000 are injured. I’ve known those numbers for years and relayed that information in numerous presentations.
That’s a fake statistic. Here’s the real one (boldface mine):
As a planning and transportation geek, I understand that each year, in the United States, about 35,000 people are killed in car crashes and about 2,000,000 are injured. I’ve known those numbers for years and relayed that information in numerous presentations.
But for some reason, last month, while driving on Interstate 95, a particular version of that statistic caught my attention. The number was on one of those electronic signs, above the roadway. The sign said:
716 dead on Georgia roadways this year. Arrive alive.
Seven hundred and sixteen. By mid-July. Perhaps it’s because it was in blazing numbers above the roadway, or perhaps I was just in a mood to pay attention. But it got me. Seven hundred and sixteen divides out to more than 100 people per month. Just in Georgia.
I can’t help but think about the comparisons with other modes of travel. For example, I’m fairly certain that if a plane fell out of the sky and killed 100 people, once a month, no one would be buying plane tickets. Airline travel would be decimated, and we’d have daily news stories about WHAT TO DO.
This is a classic case of learned helplessness (boldface mine):
But in the end, after all the numbers, after all the gruesome crashes, with countless little crosses lining the roadways, here’s what I’ve learned: We don’t really care. We don’t really care how many people die or are injured. We have come to accept that it’s just part of life in modern America. It’s no different than the sun coming up in the morning, or the tides rolling in and out every day. It just is what it is.
Even if we did care, we wouldn’t agree on what to do about it or wouldn’t want to do the things that would make the numbers drop.
We think, for example, that the answers are safer cars, wider roads, and laws against texting. What we don’t talk about is that the “safer” we make cars and the wider we make the roads, the more we enable bad behavior and faster driving. And to put it bluntly, speed kills. Don’t even make me bring up the other obvious point, which is that we’ve designed our communities to compel driving for each and every activity of life. Oops—you just made me bring it up.
The truth is, driving is dangerous. It’s the leading cause of death for nearly everyone younger than 45.
A little under one percent of Americans will die in a car crash–which is three times higher than deaths by guns. As several urban policy wonks have noted, even if you wanted to build a community where walking and mass transit were featured, you couldn’t between zoning laws, lending policies, and other restrictions. We have created an entire transportation and housing system that essentially ‘zones out’ walking–and not coincidentally also ‘zones out’ the poor.