Some good news is better than none
I’ll take not driving to fun places over dying in an auto accident any day
By Jennifer Hadley 09/23/2010
Big news came out of the US Department of Transportation last week with the report that traffic fatalities have reached their lowest levels since 1950. Of course, this is wonderful news, as it would seem to indicate that our cars are safer, we’re all wearing our seatbelts and maybe we’ve even become better drivers. I find this news even more delightful considering just how many vehicles have been recalled in the last year-and-a-half.
But sure enough, in 2009, traffic fatalities dropped a whopping 10 percent, with just under 34,000 deaths nationwide, according to the report. The last time fatalities were this low happened to be the first year that the department began keeping track of auto-related deaths.
But even more good news came with the report. There were 850 fewer motorcycle fatalities in 2009 than in 2008. Testament to stricter mandatory helmet laws, no doubt. Alcohol-related traffic fatalities also declined in 2009, down almost 7.5 percent since 2008. That’s awesome, as alcohol-related traffic deaths account for roughly one-third of all traffic fatalities. In short, this is all very, very good news. But it must be taken with a grain of salt.
According to enigmatic Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, these results are encouraging, since the actual number of miles driven increased. But don’t expect them to last, as our god-awful economy may very well be one of the reasons for the reduction in fatalities. Certainly we haven’t seen an economy this bad in nearly 60 years, so it is hard to ignore this coincidence. Moreover, we shouldn’t count on these low figures lasting.
To explain, LaHood more or less went on to say that since we’re all broke, we’re not driving to fun places for entertainment or enjoyment. This appears to equate to fewer deaths. Apparently those fun, enjoyable trips are more likely to be deadly. I assume by this he means that we’re now only driving to the unemployment office, or to yet another job interview, only to find out that there are 35 more qualified applicants waiting to be interviewed before us.
By that logic, of course, his insinuation is that as soon as the economy gets back on track, we ought to be prepared that more of us will die in car accidents. Being broke apparently equates to more Americans avoiding or surviving fatal accidents, while prosperity equates to more American deaths on our freeways.
However, the glass is still half full — even if it’s full of raw oil-rich gulf seawater — because fewer people are losing their lives on the road. So, while I don’t like not being able to drive to fun places, I’ll take it over dying in an auto accident. But still, can’t we just get some good news, just a tiny bit, that isn’t shrouded in a cloud of impending doom?
Contact Jennifer Hadley at firstname.lastname@example.org