The motor vehicle and public health

This is kind of a heavy topic for Wreck-Free Sunday, but bear with me. The thesis is what if we treated motor vehicle use like any other public health issue, starting with the statement that all motor vehicle deaths are preventable? What could we do?

First of all the problem. Motor vehicles directly killed 30K people in 2009. They are still counting 2010 so we don’t know how many then yet. That doesn’t include the number of people killed indirectly by pollution or the people who weren’t killed but who were removed from the workforce by injuries caused by motor vehicles (like me). All told latest estimates are roughly 100K killed by pollution directly linked to motor vehicles, and another 500K injured badly enough to be at least temporarily out of work, per year. Try to think of a disease that causes that much death and devastation. I’ll give you some time.

To give these numbers perspective I quote Wikipedia on the 1952 polio epidemic in the US. “Of nearly 58,000 cases reported that year 3,145 died and 21,269 were left with mild to disabling paralysis.” In comparison the 2009 fatality total from motor vehicle wrecks alone, not including pollution, was 33,808, from the FARS website. So, more than 10 times as many people died from motor vehicle wrecks in the lowest fatality year in more than half a century than in one of the worst epidemics in recent history. That is a public health problem in my eyes. I spent a couple of hours creating search strings for deaths by motor vehicle pollution and strangely enough I couldn’t find any data for the US, just a report on Canada. And there weren’t any hard numbers from that, only a vague estimate of 45 people a year killed by vehicle pollution in the GTA.

So, just going by the numbers, motor vehicles are a major health issue with more than 33K killed last year compared to the 17,374 killed by HIV/AIDS in the most recent year for statistics for that disease. Both HIV/AIDS and motor vehicle deaths are behaviour-related, rather than something that was independent of the victim’s actions. Actually in many cases the victims of motor vehicle wrecks are unable to control their destinies as they die from the result of either the driver of the vehicle they’re riding in or as the result of the driver of the vehicle that hit them or the vehicle they were riding in. So, bad behaviour, on a driver’s part but not necessarily the victim’s. A similar case happens when someone deliberately lies about their HIV status, or is exposed but fails to get tested, and passes the virus to another person. In the case of a person that deliberately spreads HIV they are prosecuted for attempted murder in some jurisdictions, other crimes in other states. But what about the person that refuses to drive right? In most of the US they get a ticket if caught, and even in cases where their bad behaviour causes death are seldom punished as severely as the person that spreads a dangerous disease.

So, after all these numbers and comparisons, what is the solution? Well the first thing that jumps into my mind is making causing death or permanent injury with a motor vehicle a crime, much like the old “kill a Biker, Go To Jail” campaign from the 20th Century. But what is really needed is something to change the mindset of drivers so that we don’t waste resources keeping bad drivers locked up. I’m not a psychologist, I’m just a bike blogger trying to put himself out of business, I don’t know what will make drivers not drive so bad that they kill. Making drivers that kill put a sign in their front yards telling people that a driver that kills lives there? Making them drive special, boring cars that are uncomfortable to sit in, don’t go very fast, and are very ugly to boot? Not letting drivers that kill ever drive again and take away their car(s)?

How do we stop killer drivers? Better yet how do we PREVENT killer drivers?

Billed @$0.02, Opus

3 responses to “The motor vehicle and public health

  1. Compelling analysis — and indeed the number of highway deaths does warrant the label “epidemic,” even before you add in the associated mortality and morbidity. Solutions? Well, application of the strict liability rule to road traffic accidents would be a good start. (See the website for information.)

    Then again, I’ve always wanted to see pigs fly. And I think that’s just about as likely. This IS the Republic of Happy Motoring, after all.


  2. Pingback: Closing arguments in Wray trial, double pro racing tragedies, 3feet2pass survives GOP opposition « BikingInLA

  3. Pingback: Did I create a Meme? | Witch on a Bicycle

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