One of the least discussed public health crisis are U.S. road deaths. In fact, when they are discussed, it’s usually along the lines of ‘this year, [bad thing X] surpassed road deaths.’ It never seems to occur to anyone that too many people in the U.S. die due to our transportation system. Well, anyone isn’t fair, since I’ve been beating this drum for a while now. To review:
- Almost one percent of people will die in an automobile accident. Only heart disease, cancer, and complications thereof (infectious disease) kill more people.
- On the economic side, the median household with earnings of $51,939 pays more to respond to and cope with the aftermath of car accidents than it does to Medicare through the payroll tax.
So it’s good to see the New York Times get in on the action (boldface mine):
The federal judge and legal scholar Guido Calabresi likes to pose a conundrum to his law students. He asks them to imagine a deity coming forth to offer society a wondrous invention, one that would make everyday life more pleasant in almost every way.
This invention comes with a cost, however. In exchange, the deity would choose 1,000 young men and women and strike them dead.
Calabresi then asks the students if they accept the deal. In 30 years of giving the lecture at Yale, the answer is almost always no. At which point he delivers the lesson: “What’s the difference between this and the automobile?”
…In the United States, crashes claim 1,000 lives every nine days. Last year, 40,000 Americans died, about as many as from breast cancer and more than twice as many as from murder…
We put up with these costs because we imagine them as unavoidable human imperfection. We are willing to make some changes, like wearing seatbelts and driving sober, which have caused deaths to decline gradually for decades. But we assume there is no cure. We’ve accepted the deity’s offer: modernity in exchange for 1,000 lives, again and again and again.
Leonhardt goes on to talk about the additional surge in deaths due to ‘distracted driving’, which is to say, fucking around on your cellphone while operating dangerous machinery (that would be your car). But let’s not forget the key point–one Leonhardt ends with:
Remember Calabresi’s lesson: Even before distracted driving, cars claimed a toll that would be shocking if it had not become normal. Technology has now given us the choice between making a terrible problem worse and saving a lot of young, healthy lives.
While worrying about cellphones and so forth is fine, this is a structural problem: too many people have to do too much driving to live their lives. Changing that is going to require rethinking how we build our communities–where we live and how we live.
Or we can continue to ‘drive our way’ to breast cancer.
What color do we wear to draw attention that?