Car Crash Victim 2

 

"…it is unusual to encounter a serious analysis of road danger in the national news media.  By 2020, road crashes will have moved from ninth to third place in the world disease ranking. If we overlook this carnage, it will be the propaganda coup of the new millennium." Ian Roberts, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health (2) .

In the next twelve months, the automobile will kill one and a quarter million people and injure up to 50 million more (3) . One in ten hospital beds in the UK is occupied by an automobile victim. In developing countries half of all surgical beds are occupied by automobile victims (4). By 2020 the automobile will secure the title of being the third biggest killer on the planet.

These numbers can seem so abstract but they hide the tragedy that is each individual’s story, the story of a lost mother or father, the tragedy of a dead or hurt child.

 

  Car Crash Victim 3            Car Crash Victim 4

 

Perhaps you yourself have witnessed the carnage on our roads.  If so you may know how the tragedy ripples out to touch the families left behind and perhaps you have seen the burden of caring for loved ones who have been disabled and injured.

Bizarrely, we are told that trees (5) , i-Pods (6) , dark clothes (7) , pets, pedestrian crossings (8) and children at play (9) are dangerous and must be removed from what were once our living spaces.  However, heavy machines armed with exploding air bags, bull bars, crumple zones and reinforced cages can race through our public spaces at speeds of 60 feet per second and we are not supposed to think that is dangerous at all.

 “They pressed the stop-light as we waited one summer night, and I began to count the seconds for the pedestrian light to change. The restless crowds edged out into the shiny stream of cars. It seemed interminable. We waited and waited. A minute or two more and the traffic signs walk light flashed. Then the race was on. “god they’re going to kill us” said a woman in a pink sweat suit as she scuttled onto the island between the two roads. Trapped together, midpoint, on this concrete island, we watched the cars collect. “You want me to go back and press the button?” asked the woman’s male companion. I began to count. We waited again.” Jane Holtz Kay, Asphalt Nation (10) .

If you could somehow travel back in time, how would you try to explain the danger that has come to dominate our streets - traffic islands, flashing lights, reflective clothing, twisted pedestrian barriers, concrete lane dividers, vehicle crash barriers. Streets are abandoned as people retreat from the danger, children are locked indoors, pets confined to yards, bicycles abandoned in sheds.  When we move we strap ourselves in behind shatter-resistant glass, side-impact protection bars and exploding air bags and still the car is the biggest killer in the US of those aged between 5 and 27 (11).

 

Car Crash Victim 5
photo-istockPhoto niknikon.

 

Standing reason on its head we are told that “It’s not dangerous at all” and then we criticise the victims because “They weren’t careful enough”. Or we call it “an accident”, perhaps because it allows us to pretend the danger doesn’t really exist. In this terrible human sacrifice to the automobile, the life of a community is dismissed as a “traffic flow impedance” and the public domain has been redefined as “automobile infrastructure”.

 “.. Mr Flanagan was hit and killed when returning home, first he was hit by a speeding 4x4 that failed to stop, a mini bus driver then ran over the body and kept going, Mr Flanagan was then struck by a teenager coming home from Swansea with her boyfriend, she stopped and went to check the body, panicked and left the scene going on to a party, a teenage boy and his girlfriend were the last to run over Mr Flanagan by which time a party of night fishermen had reported the "accident". Other drivers just avoided the obstacle and drove past. The coroner called the tragic death "a tale of inhumanity". Guardian, UK,Thursday May 12 2005

The industry promotes a fiction; that a mobile phone or glass of wine must take the blame, that tiredness or even trees are dangerous, pay attention they say or pay the price, after all its only a million victims a week !.  What must remain hidden is the simple truth - it is the automobile itself which is the real danger.  How else can they get away with selling cars designed to hit 250 mph than by claiming the responsibility lies elsewhere?

The automobile industry has gradually manipulated us into accepting an abiding presence of danger that is truly shocking (12). Safety was once universal and unquestioned but today it is no exaggeration to say that one false move, just one distracted or unguarded step, could result in death or injury.