Monday, September 23, 2013

Traffic Deaths Verses Terrorist Attacks - Where's The Greater Danger?

Last week, I went with my husband to visit my daughter in Tennessee and then to my husband's parents in Virginia. We spent a wonderful week in a cozy cabin nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. On our drive home, I noticed a couple of lighted signs crossing the interstates of 75 and 24 in Georgia and Tennessee that listed that state's traffic deaths so far this year. For Tennessee, it was 723 as of mid-September and I can't remember for sure the amount for Georgia, but I think it was a similar number. Those numbers kind of shocked me as I was driving along the interstate. I mean, those are huge numbers!

This made me want to do some research concerning traffic fatalities in the US during recent years. I found a website called the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that was extremely helpful for this project. This website had the figures for traffic related deaths in the US from 1994 until 2011. I guess they are still working on the reports for the year 2012. I'm looking at these pages in horror as I see numbers like 29,757 for 2011 and 30,296 for 2010. These numbers stay pretty close in the 30,000 range each and every year all the way back to 1994. The total number of traffic deaths in the US from 2000-2011 is almost a staggering half a million (459,222).

As I'm studying these numbers, my ADHD mind starts wandering. I start thinking about the recent terrorist attack at the Westgate Mall in Kenya where the death toll presently stands at 68 with a believed number of 10 still remaining as hostages on the inside. The situation there is truly a terrible one and no one deserves to die by the hands of cruel and cowardly terrorists. But I can't help but make a comparison to these huge numbers of traffic deaths in the US every year. I'm certainly relieved that the number of deaths by these terrorists isn't larger, but half a million people in eleven years dying in our own "backyard" by accident?

This made me wonder how many people have died by an act of terrorism in the US in recent years. These thoughts brought me to another website called the Global Terrorism Database (GTD). I researched all the deaths resulting from acts of terrorism in the US from the years 2000-2011 and the number comes to 3034 (2836 of that number are from those who died in the 911 attacks). That's 3034 too many, but a small number by comparison to the half a million traffic deaths for the same years. With numbers like this, I can almost imagine the terrorist groups out there saying something like, "Uh...they're killing themselves faster than any damage we could do in a lifetime."

What can be done about this? In 1983, seat belt laws went into effect and in 1991, backseat belt laws were added. For twenty years prior to this law, US traffic deaths ranged in the 40,000 and 50,000's per year and continued to range in the 40,000's per year until 2008. That's twenty-five years after seat belt laws went into effect, 40,000 people were still dying on the roads every year. Of course, there are more cars on the road every year. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the number of vehicles on the road have been rising by an average of about 4 million per year since 1960. More cars, more accidents.

In 2008, the number of traffic deaths dropped into the 30,000's and in 2012, the number dropped into the 20,000's. A relieving trend to say the least. Maybe because vehicles are being built with stricter safety precautions. Airbags became mandatory in 1998. However, it takes time for the average person to own a newer vehicle and for these benefits to filter down to more people. Improvements in road construction may help as well, although the actual construction itself probably causes more accidents. Even with these major improvements, the number of deaths per year by traffic accidents is still unacceptably high.

My chances of dying in a car wreck caused by my "neighbor" are 1 in 19,000. My chances of dying in a terrorist attack by "strangers" are 1 in 1.7 million. Is this close to the definition of "Friendly Fire"?

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