Sunday, November 21, 2010

Motor Vehicles: Weapons of Mass Destruction

Warning: this is depressing, but I hope you'll read it anyway.

I've got an acronym that you should memorize. It's NHTSA FARS: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System. I've added it as a permanent link in this blog. It's your one-stop source for data on the trips that went horribly horribly wrong in our country.

I've talked before about the tens of thousands of people who die every year in traffic collisions in the United States (33,808 people died from this nationwide in 2009, a "good" year mostly because of less driving caused by the weak economy). I did so again on a comment board when NPR ran a story on how the U.S. lags behind Europe on traffic safety. I'm writing this because I thought of a new way to dramatize the number of people who are killed by our transportation system.

As you know, in 1945 the United States devastated the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with our newly-invented weapon: the atomic bomb. The precise number of dead is not known, but it is estimated that it could have exceeded 225,000 people if you count the immediate impact plus the later deaths from radiation exposure.

We've lost more than that many people since 2004 to crashes.

America, it's time to take this seriously. Because when WMD-like death tolls are hitting us every several years you know it's no "accident".


  1. The auto is deadly is so many ways. You have an excellent blog. We have added your link at:

  2. Here in Brazil, single-occupied vehicles consume more than 6 Belo Monte Dam equivalent energy.

  3. Thanks for the comments, and the link!

  4. One could also say that motor-vehicle related fatalities are the equivalent of a loaded airliner "buying the farm" every other day. I have some thoughts about why this doesn't produce outrage: Auto wrecks kill people in single digit numbers; air crashes take out victims by the dozen. The poor, the young, the old and the otherwise unnewsworthy are disproportionately represented in the body count. The media derive much revenue from auto-related advertising (ever watch an NFL game and count the car and truck ads?); this would encourage downplaying the dangers of motor vehicles. But we must consider the subconscious risk/reward calculation; for most Americans, driving (or riding in) a car is part of everyday life, and the most convenient way to take care of life's business. Using public transit requires patience, and dare I say, "discipline", both of which are not part of the typical American mindset.

  5. @ Bob

    I think you raise some good points. Since these deaths trickle in, and involve America's most popular transportation, they're easy to ignore.

    I've often pointed out that these deaths are much larger than the deaths on 9/11, yet those 3,000 or so deaths have been the basis for spending over $1 trillion so far on two wars.

    Part of the solution has to be making places where the alternatives to transportation that creates a lot of risks are much easier to use.