Americans are not always afraid of the things we should.
This summer, my dad visited us every week in the Pacific Northwest to play with the grandchildren, and every week I could predict what his complaints would be: The record heat in the area made him worse, just like chronic pain in her back – persistent deep pain from a major car accident two years ago. The common cause of these events has not been lost on me.
When it comes to car crashes, most of us have shrugged our shoulders and accepted the carnage as an inevitable reality.
The threat that car emissions pose to the environment is drawing attention. But what we Americans are still in total collective denial is how deadly our car addiction already is. Every year, nearly 40,000 people die in accidents and at least 3.3 million more are seriously injured. Cars put us in clear and imminent danger every day, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized: automobile traffic is a major cause of death among children, long before guns or drowning. In adults, blacks and browns are more likely to die or be injured by cars than whites.
This year, so far, 21,450 people have died in road crashes, up 17% from 2019, according to preliminary estimates from the National Safety Council released last month. More than 2.4 million people have been injured seriously enough to require medical attention. Usually when millions of Americans are killed or injured at this rate, it triggers a public outcry, even widespread movement. But when it comes to car accidents, we’ve mostly shrugged our shoulders and accepted the carnage as an inevitable fact of life.
Autonomous and electric vehicles are often hailed as solutions to the safety problems posed by cars, but before we try to solve a problem, we must first name the problem. In this case, we must stop normalizing the trauma caused by cars.
“We’re a very car-dependent society, and that makes us lazy” about accidents, says J. Gayle Beck, a registered clinical psychologist who focuses on the emotional consequences of trauma and has studied post-traumatic stress disorder in motor vehicle survivors. accidents.
According to a 1995 study that is consistently cited by mental health professionals and motor vehicle accident attorneys, 39.2% of car crash survivors develop post-traumatic stress disorder, and it doesn’t. are not just those whose cars are hit. When it comes to who is showing symptoms of trauma, Beck notes, we usually think of the person struck, not the person who strikes, nor the first responders and assistants on the scene. The impact is even greater if you think of the families, friends, colleagues and neighbors of the victims.
One reason could be a culture of toxic individualism that reduces almost every systemic problem, from sexual harassment to healthcare to so-called isolated incidents. In the context of cars, we tend not to blame public infrastructure, but individual drivers, says Steve Davis, assistant vice president of transportation strategy at Smart Growth America, a safe communities advocacy group.
But there are only a few things that drivers can control, the least of which are environments that were built decades ago and maintained by the status quo. “Road design is for cars and speed,” Davis notes. “This is the philosophy of street design.
Blaming American drivers – three-quarters of whom consider themselves safer than average anyway – for reducing fatalities and accidents by simply driving better seems like a futile effort. “It’s usually not reckless driving that causes crashes,” says Davis, “but the everyday driving we all do. “
It is true that with the exception of the last few years, cars have generally become safer for drivers and passengers since the 1970s. But our violence rate is still exceptionally high compared to other developed countries: Au Canada, 5.34 people per 100,000 die each year in road traffic; in Japan, it is 3.6. In the United States, we are at 12.6. Americans drive more than our global counterparts, but more of us also drive trucks and SUVs, which are two to three times more likely than small personal vehicles to kill walking people.
I’m sure I speak for many walkers when I say the hustle and bustle of the crosswalk is my least favorite indignity of being a human in a car dependent world. But that’s a mere annoyance given that the past few years have been the deadliest in three decades for pedestrians, in part because vehicles keep getting bigger.
In fact, part of the reason more black Americans die in road crashes than any other race is that they are more likely to have to walk to get, which is riskier than driving, and live in neighborhoods that are more likely to lack safety features. like crosswalks, although high-speed freeways with dangerous intersection conditions often cross them. Children, on the other hand, are inherently more vulnerable because of their small size. Being less visible on roads or sidewalks increases their chances of being struck, even in their own driveways.
Most Americans alive today have known a family member or friend who has at least been involved in a fender hitch, a cheeky way of saying a minor collision. That same month my dad was run over in his SUV and cut from his seat belt by first responders, a colleague was driving home when a driver boned his bus in the middle of a major intersection. She suffered injuries to her back and shoulders, much like my father; almost two years later, like my father, she still has flare-ups that limit her mobility. Even between the first and second drafts of this story, a 60 mph car collided with a close friend of mine while driving at night. He said he didn’t blame the driver because the road was inherently dangerous. Why would it be the driver’s fault? He asked.
Considering an alternative to this mess may be impossible for many of us, but we have to do it. As complicated as the problem is, the logic is simple: we have to open our eyes and see that we are at the end of the road.