EMT’s usually attempt to resuscitate and will transport a critically injured child, even if there is little expectation of survivability, which was the situation for a four-month-old in the pediatric trauma room. He had been in a car with his mother and aunts. No one survived in the other vehicle; so the “lucky” ones were on gurneys in the emergency department. One of the infant’s aunts was dead at the scene, while her sister, the driver, was whisked to surgery and lived 8 days. The baby’s mother had been transported to different hospital; lucid enough to call trying to find out about her baby. When the infant’s grandparents arrived, we had to make a decision about allowing them to see and identify the dead baby. Just another shift in any ER and a testimonial to the brutality of our car culture.
People don’t really pay attention to statistics unless one of those numbers happens to represent themselves or loved ones. But how can we not be traumatized just thinking about the 32,000-33,000 killed annually (about 90 people daily) in US car crashes (approximately 1.25 million deaths annually worldwide)? The answer is, we don’t think about it until it happens to us. Is there any other sector where that’s an acceptable mortality rate? A typical driver will have a near-miss once or twice a month and will be in a collision of some type about every 6 years.* Does that match your experiences?
Numbers from the US National Safety Council:
- More than 12 million motor vehicle accidents annually
- Involving more than 20 million vehicles
- Around 5 million are non-fatal
- Of those non-fatal accidents, approximately 10% of victims suffer disabling injuries
While I try to limit my driving, in two out of the last three times on the road, I saw accidents. Four cars in one and another with three (one car had the engine pushed into the driver’s seat; even with what appeared to be optimal driving conditions: 25 mile/hour speed limit, mid-day, dry roads). Maybe that’s just driving in DC…
Cars have gotten safer; deaths were at a high of 54,600 in the 70’s. But when automakers design for safety, they are mostly referring to safety for insiders: vehicle operators and occupants. Cars can often withstand low speed crashes without damage, while offering protection for passengers. However, a motor vehicle accident as slow as 5 mph or simply rolling over someone’s foot, even in a Mini or Bug, can cause serious injuries. Bumpers don’t provide much protection for bodies outside cars.
If the proliferation of highways and parking lots, not to mention Super Bowl commercials are indicators, Americans love cars. [Possibly, the only thing more suspect than car-free is vegetarian.] Automakers give cool names like impala, jaguar, or mustang; and perhaps drivers think that they acquire some of those attributes when they’re behind the wheel. Streets are super-sized to account for wide loads, traffic volume and room for weaving while the driver texts. Road signs and laws, the so-called limits that are really suggestions, are designed with vehicles in mind. When the wind is at my back on a downhill, I am flying at 13 mph on my bike, if the flashing speed limit signs are accurate.
On this sunny morning, I gathered with other cyclists at the Crystal City waterpark to celebrate Bike to Work day. While my husband rides his bike year-round, I am more of a fair-weather cyclist. I have faith in my riding skills, but I have no trust in drivers, who seem distracted, in a hurry and with the attitude, “What are you (cyclist) going to do about it, if I cut you off or run you over?” In car versus bicycle contests, cars almost always win.
Car-makers have accurately named a vehicle the Ram. To pedestrians and cyclists, all vehicles are battering rams and to be treated as potential weapons. So on this holiday for bicycles, low impact is good; not only for the environment but those who might be on the receiving end of a bumper. I have no more desire to be a hood ornament on your car than you want to see me splattered across your windshield; probably a bad day for all involved if that happens. Give pedestrian and bike riders a brake and maybe consider an alternative to the killing machines. Until it’s safe for all of us, it won’t be safe for any of us.
© Joan S Grey, 20 May 2016
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