Sometimes things have to be placed in the right context in order for people to put it in the proper perspective. An excellent example of this was a recent Washington Post report on motor vehicle fatalities in the United States.
Most people are well aware that distracted driving is posing a serious danger not just to the motorists who engage in unsafe activities behind the wheel but to everyone else on the road. They also know that these and other dangerous practices are resulting in far too many accidents that cause death and injury. Yet far too few of us take these realities to heart when we’re driving.
The Post report explains the situation in terms that should get people’s attention. Since 2000, more people have died in car crashes on U.S. roads than the American death toll from World War I and World War II combined. That’s 624,000 traffic deaths since January 2000, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. During the world wars, 535,000 American military personnel were killed.
These figures are particularly alarming when one considers the improvements in vehicle safety in the last decade or two. All the technology in the world can’t overcome human stupidity.
Taking all the numbers into consideration, it’s astonishing how difficult it is to bring about change in people’s habits. In addition to the highway deaths America has experienced since 2000, more than 30 million people were injured in crashes during that same period. Most of probably know some of the people included in those statistics. Yet dangerous practices persist.
In almost 213,000 of fatal crashes from 2000 to 2017, the drivers were above the legal limit for drinking and driving. More than 197,000 people died due to speeding. More than 220,000 of the people killed in crashes since 2000 were not wearing seatbelts. And nearly 78,000 people have died in crashes caused by distracted driving since 2000, according to a study by the American Public Health Association and government data. According to NHTSA, during daylight hours, 481,000 drivers are using their cellphones.
Cellphone use while driving caused 800 deaths in 2017. Most of those using them are talking rather than texting or dealing with emails, according to reports from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or IIHS. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety determined that those who talk on a cellphone while driving are four times more likely to crash, and those who text and drive are up to eight times more likely to crash. The number of drivers who say they talk on their cellphones regularly or fairly often while driving has jumped 46% since 2013, according to the foundation.
And nodding off has caused more than 10,000 deaths since 2005. The AAA Foundation determined that drivers who had less than four hours of sleep had 11.5 times the crash risk.
Just increasing the speed limit has resulted in nearly 37,000 deaths over the past 25 years, according to the IIHS.
Despite these alarming numbers, the problems continue. Consider the justifiable outcry over the opioid epidemic. That crisis killed nearly 100,000 people between 2006 and 2012. During the same time frame, speeding, drunk and distracted driving caused 190,455 deaths. Yet there’s little outrage about that.
For an example of the depth of the problem, look no further than Lower Heidelberg Township, where leaders recently purchased 20 signs reminding people of the 25 mph speed limit in residential neighborhoods.
Township officials noted complaints about drivers ignoring stop signs and speed limits. Motorists are spotted eating breakfast, applying make-up and texting while operating a moving vehicle. To make matters worse, police said some Facebook users are interfering with efforts to combat the traffic violations by alerting neighbors when police vehicles are in the neighborhood.
There are similar problems taking place in communities all over our region, state and nation. Despite the clear danger involved, people simply don’t take these problems seriously.
As Maureen Vogel of the National Safety Council told the Post, “Unfortunately, our public option research has repeatedly shown that people still believe it will happen to someone else, but not to them.”
Everyone needs to follow the basic safety advice that people so often ignore: Keep your eyes and attention on the road. Keep your hands on the steering wheel. Don’t drink and drive. Wear a seatbelt. Stop driving if you’re feeling drowsy.
Drivers are entrusted with a machine that can easily cause death or injury to themselves or others. It’s time to start acting that way.
— The Reading Eagle