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About The Weekly Carnage

Every Friday morning, The Weekly Carnage tallies up and presents the previous seven days’-worth of motor vehicle mayhem from around the region: death, injuries and property damage. This is a grim and depressing task. But we do it because by drawing attention to the scope of the problem of the death and destruction caused by automobiles, we hope to also draw attention to the solution: pursuing policies that cause people to reduce the amount they drive, while promoting mass transit, walking and cycling.

Car crashes are typically isolated events with limited resonance beyond the few people involved and their loved ones. Yet they are a pervasive societal problem that goes undetected by the collective consciousness precisely because they are so frequent. This column will hopefully chip away at public apathy about automobile-related death and destruction. Here is a snapshot of the problem.

Deaths

Automobile crashes are the leading cause of death of Americans aged 1 to 34, and worldwide for people aged 10 to 24. In 2005, 43,443 people were killed in traffic crashes in the United States, the equivalent of more than 16 Iraq wars (as of the war’s American casualty count in August 2006). In New York City, 297 people were killed in traffic crashes in the city’s 2005 fiscal year (7/1/04 to 6/30/05), or one person every 29-and-a-half hours. In the New York State, New Jersey and Connecticut region, 2,515 people were killed in traffic crashes in 2004 (the latest year for which data are available), or one person every three-and-a-half hours. Automobile engineers and legislators have spent decades focusing their energy on making cars less deadly (adding air bags, side impact protection systems, requiring people to wear seat belts), but there hasn’t been an equal effort at getting people to drive less. The gains from improved technology, anti-DWI campaigns and seatbelt laws have been wiped out as the total number of annual vehicle miles traveled has gone up. Likewise, as American cars have grown bigger and more dangerous, there have only been minimal efforts to make conditions outside of the automobile safer for pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles.

Injuries & “Accidents”

Accounts that you will find linked to in this column will no doubt gloss over the injuries caused by crashes. If they are reported at all, they’ll be reported as an afterthought to the deaths. A person who loses a leg is written up as “an injury.” A person who loses an eye or two? Same thing. A person who is paralyzed from the neck down? That’s just an “injury,” the same way that a bloody nose would be written up as an “injury.” In general, all of these crashes are called “accidents,” even when the news story reports that the the motorist intentionally hit someone with his vehicle. The word “accident” conveys the sense that these 40,000+ deaths per year are completely unavoidable, that no one is ever at fault, that nothing can possibly be done. Streetsblog’s policy is to refer to these incidents as “crashes.” We think that it is a much more objective term than “accident.”

Property Damage

Many times each day, drivers hit other cars, they hit trees, they hit parking meters and street signs and fences and they plow into houses and businesses. Much of the infrastructure most at risk of being hit by cars has had to be hardened against the potential. Bollards protect telephone booths, and street signs are poured in concrete lest they be bent over. Most property damage probably never makes the news, but when it does, it will be included here.

The Solution

Driving less. New York City’s low per capita car use makes it much safer on this count than the rest of the nation. There were just 3.65 deaths per 100,000 New York City residents in 2005, compared to 15.06 deaths per 100,000 Americans as a whole. (New York State had 7.77 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2004, a lower figure than any state except Massachusetts [7.42] and Rhode Island [7.68].)

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