December 6, 2002

Commentary

Do you want a happy holiday?

By Robert H. Linnell

What a silly question. Of course, everyone wants a happy holiday season. Unfortunately nearly 3,400 of us won’t be here to enjoy the holidays. If we consider the period from Thanksgiving through the New Year, the number jumps to about 5,000. Since September 11, 2001 we have heard a great deal about the lives of the 3,000 innocent people who lost their lives and the devastating effects on the tens of thousands of surviving family members, friends and employers. But here I refer to fatalities from traffic “accidents”, most of which are preventable.

We feel a great obligation to assist the survivors of 9/11/01 and are spending billions in tax money and charity to help them go on with their lives. Many families of innocent victims who died in traffic crashes are not so fortunate; it all depends on auto insurance, life insurance coverage and help from the survivors benefits of Social Security (a benefit never discussed by proponents of privatization). In spite of state compulsory auto insurance laws many accidents and fatalities involve vehicles that carry no insurance.

Our government is now focused on fighting terrorists with tens of billions allocated to new military and homeland defense, neglecting all other national needs. In spite of the rhetoric, it is difficult to believe that terrorists attacks could kill even a fraction of the 42,000 that we murder on the highways every year! What is wrong here? Why don’t we give higher priority to traffic deaths?

The psychology of fear indicates that those threats that we have no control over, such as snipers and terrorists, cause us great anxiety, to the point of irrationality. We are willing to spend great treasure to reduce our fear of these threats. Some keep guns in the home to fend off robbers (although studies indicate that they do more harm than good) but gun ownership is no protections from snipers or terrorists attacks.

When it comes to our automobiles, we believe that we are in complete control. We all think that we are above average in driving skill and that our superior skills enable us to speed and drive recklessly, escaping accidents. We think our only risk is being caught by police! Some 40% of annual traffic deaths are alcohol related. It would be better for all of us if we were caught more often especially when we have been drinking! Our culture of violence contributes. An ad for the video game, “Burnout 2: Point of Impact”, promoted for 6 year olds, shows a man’s head smashing through a windshield with the comment, “the last thing to go through your mind will be your behind”.

Should we be surprised that the greatest threat for death of our young people is traffic accidents?

Sober, careful drivers, obeying traffic laws, are no more in control of their lives (from a drunk driver) than the office worker in Twin Towers on 9/11/01 was from terrorists. But there is a lot more we, as a society, could do to reduce traffic fatalities, and for a tiny fraction of the effort we are making to fight terrorists. What we need are tougher traffic laws that we enforce. Since some states now have far more stringent laws that are enforced, we know that if all states adopted the best existing laws several thousand lives would be saved each year.

Every one of us who drives can help by following a few simple rules: 1). Never drink and drive, not one beer or one cocktail; 2). Always wear seat/shoulder belts; when you are the driver, insist that all passengers are buckled up before you move the vehicle; 3). Obey the speed laws, don’t tailgate, don’t ever take chances in passing; 4). Keep your auto well maintained with regular checkups of brakes, lights, etc. Set a good example for your family and friends by following these simple rules.You can save lives.

Celebrate this holiday with an early New Years resolution to be a safer driver. Have a great time with your family and friends. Don’t be the reason that you or other families meet at the morgue instead.

Reproduced with permission from: www.my-oped.com.

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