Death By Car Crash

Via Charli Carpenter, an interesting NYT “room for debate” feature on the question of why don’t we care more about the huge number of Americans who die in car crashes. This is sort of a pet peeve of mine. Over 37,000 people died in motor vehicle fatalities in 2008 and that was a low year.


Obviously you couldn’t reduce that to zero without totally eliminating motor vehicles, but even ten percent of that number is more people than died on 9/11. And yet the difference between the resources you can mobilize for “cut driving fatalities by ten percent a year” and “help stop another 9/11” is enormous. I understand that, psychologically, people feel more menaced by the idea of being hurt by a bad guy than simply dying in a traffic “accident” but it’s worth emphasizing, as Adrian Lund does in the debate, that “speeding is a factor in one-third of all highway deaths.” Which is to say that a huge slice of this problem isn’t “accidents” but rather people driving illegally fast.

The solutions here aren’t brain surgery. Congestion pricing and market-rate pricing for parking would reduce the amount of time people spend on the road, and better enforcement of speeding laws would reduce the deadliness of that activity. The benefits of these measures would be quite large but the whole subject is basically not on the radar.