An example for Penang: Once a week on Friday, the civil society journal and blog Streetsblog of New York City stubbornly reports the week’s toll of human life, injuries and major property damage directly due to the errors, miscalculations, inattention and anti-social behavior of the automobile drivers of the city. This unrelenting reminder is a public drumbeat to draw the attention of the public, the media and the city government to the flaws of their system and behaviour. Let’s have a look at how they do it.
About The Weekly Carnage
Every Friday morning, The Weekly Carnage tallies up and presents the previous seven days’-worth of motor vehicle mayhem from around the region: death, injuries and property damage. This is a grim and depressing task. But we do it because by drawing attention to the scope of the problem of the death and destruction caused by automobiles, we hope to also draw attention to the solution: pursuing policies that cause people to reduce the amount they drive, while promoting mass transit, walking and cycling.
Car crashes are typically isolated events with limited resonance beyond the few people involved and their loved ones. Yet they are a pervasive societal problem that goes undetected by the collective consciousness precisely because they are so frequent. This column will hopefully chip away at public apathy about automobile-related death and destruction. Here is a snapshot of the problem.
Automobile crashes are the leading cause of death of Americans aged 1 to 34, and worldwide for people aged 10 to 24. In 2005, 43,443 people were killed in traffic crashes in the United States, the equivalent of more than 16 Iraq wars (as of the war’s American casualty count in August 2006). In New York City, 297 people were killed in traffic crashes in the city’s 2005 fiscal year (7/1/04 to 6/30/05), or one person every 29-and-a-half hours. In the New York State, New Jersey and Connecticut region, 2,515 people were killed in traffic crashes in 2004 (the latest year for which data are available), or one person every three-and-a-half hours.
Automobile engineers and legislators have spent decades focusing their energy on making cars less deadly (adding air bags, side impact protection systems, requiring people to wear seat belts), but there hasn’t been an equal effort at getting people to drive less. The gains from improved technology, anti-DWI campaigns and seatbelt laws have been wiped out as the total number of annual vehicle miles traveled has gone up. Likewise, as American cars have grown bigger and more dangerous, there have only been minimal efforts to make conditions outside of the automobile safer for pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles.
Injuries & “Accidents”
Accounts that you will find linked to in this column will no doubt gloss over the injuries caused by crashes. If they are reported at all, they’ll be reported as an afterthought to the deaths. A person who loses a leg is written up as “an injury.” A person who loses an eye or two? Same thing. A person who is paralyzed from the neck down? That’s just an “injury,” the same way that a bloody nose would be written up as an “injury.”
In general, all of these crashes are called “accidents,” even when the news story reports that the the motorist intentionally hit someone with his vehicle. The word “accident” conveys the sense that these 40,000+ deaths per year are completely unavoidable, that no one is ever at fault, that nothing can possibly be done. Streetsblog’s policy is to refer to these incidents as “crashes.” We think that it is a much more objective term than “accident.”
Many times each day, drivers hit other cars, they hit trees, they hit parking meters and street signs and fences and they plow into houses and businesses. Much of the infrastructure most at risk of being hit by cars has had to be hardened against the potential. Bollards protect telephone booths, and street signs are poured in concrete lest they be bent over. Most property damage probably never makes the news, but when it does, it will be included here.
Driving less. New York City’s low per capita car use makes it much safer on this count than the rest of the nation. There were just 3.65 deaths per 100,000 New York City residents in 2005, compared to 15.06 deaths per 100,000 Americans as a whole. (New York State had 7.77 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2004, a lower figure than any state except Massachusetts [7.42] and Rhode Island [7.68].)
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Streetsblog is a daily news source connecting people to information about sustainable transportation and livable communities. Since 2006, Streetsblog has covered the movement to transform our cities by reducing dependence on private automobiles and improving conditions for walking, biking, and transit. Our reporters have broken important stories about transit funding, pedestrian safety, and bicycle policy from day one. And our writing makes arcane topics like parking prices and induced traffic accessible to a broad audience. Today, hundreds of thousands of readers rely on Streetsblog, and our online community is the connective fiber for people all over the country working to make their streets safer and more sustainable. Streetsblog New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Capitol Hill, and the national Streetsblog Network connect local, grassroots livable streets advocates with one another and to a national movement for reform.
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From the editor of World Streets:
We know of course the answer to this, whether in New York City, Penang or any other town or city in any other part of the world.
(a) Fewer cars on the street, (b) moving far more slowly (we trap them through slow street architecture), (c) far better protection for all others out on the street, and (d) drivers who when at the wheel have the fear of their life of what will happen to them in the event they are the source of incident, injury or death. This coupled with (e) clear and simple laws, that are made widely known, together with (f) draconian enforcement coupled with (g) strict and immediate punishment which is comparable to the offenses committed. (h) And no exceptions or exemptions.
Sometimes life is simple.