One of the aspects of motor vehicles that isn't often remarked upon is the number of deaths we accept each year for our convenience. In 2005, the last year for which figures are fully compiled, 43,443 people died in motor vehicle crashes, an average of 119 a day. On average, then, it takes about 3 1/2 weeks to kill as many people in motor vehicle crashes as died in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Those attacks have dramatically altered our country's behaviour, reputation, finances and politics, yet the death toll continues to tick upwards on our roads with hardly any comment. It is so widely accepted as part of life that it seems we all know somebody killed in a car crash (one of our old employees' sons was killed a few days ago in Boston, a passenger in a taxi rammed into by a car being chased by police) or someone who has killed someone in a car crash (Laura Bush, for instance). In among the dead are 750+ bicyclists a year and around 4,800 pedestrians, though I think this undercounts pedestrian deaths.
Since I work for an insurance company, I get the industry rags that come around. Most of it is dull stuff, new insurance commissioners, competitor filings in different states, ongoing industry debates about various lines, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety does a number of good publications. They have just released a special Status Report called One Day of Crashes, which looks in detail at several of the crashes that killed people on Tuesday June 7, 2005. June 7 was chosen because 119 people were killed that day, the average daily total in a year with a low of 67 deaths (February 17th) to a high of 197 (June 25th). As it happens, there were no motor vehicle deaths in Minnesota that day, though there were two each in Wisconsin and Iowa.
The first death that day was at 12:05AM in Mooresville, Indiana, when a 16-year-old driving 90mph lost control, hit several trees and ended up upside-down. His father came across the wreck on the way to work and identified his son in the car. He is interviewed for the article and you can feel the unspeakable grief coming through. There are several other crashes detailed, ending with a newly-married couple clobbered by a drunk Marine in a pickup who ran a red light in Arlington, Texas and the final death of the day, when a motor scooter in Fort Worth ran into the side of a tractor-trailer at 11:55PM.
One story is a bicyclist death, one of four that day. A 61-year-old woman in Ocean Springs, Mississippi was riding her bike home from Wal-Mart when she was hit from behind by a Ford pickup driven by a 75-year-old man. He didn't stop until a policeman who'd seen the collision pulled him over. He claimed not to have seen the cyclist. There were 782 bicyclists killed in crashes with motor vehicles in 2005. Most died of head injuries, and 86% of those killed were not wearing helmets.
Another is a pedestrian death. An 83-year-old woman was crossing the street on a Walk signal when she was hit by a 74-year-old man in a Lexus SUV. The driver said he didn't see the pedestrian until his wife pointed her out and, startled, his foot slipped off the brake and onto the accelerator. The SUV lurched into the woman and she died of head trauma, one of 8 pedestrians killed that day, one of 4,881 killed in 2005.
It makes an illuminating litany of the daily carnage with all the usual causes; teenage stupidity (driving fast, no seat belts, inexperience), drunkenness and running red lights (the Marine t-boning the couple), inattention (two sleepy truck drivers, one runs off the road and kills himself, another runs at 53mph into the back of a stopped car and kills the driver), bad luck (the motorcyclist hitting a cow in the dark, a couple killed when a car crossed the centerline and hit them), speeding (a factor in nearly 1 in 3 fatal crashes), older drivers (75-year old hits cyclist, 74-year old hits pedestrian). They are often referred to as accidents, but many are not, they are behaviours people consciously choose. For all the motorist ire about cyclists always running stop signs and red lights, it is the ubiquitous speeding, cell phone talking, red light running, drunkenness and inattention which kills people by the score every single day. Yes, I know, I'm too important to obey those dreary speed limits, this phone call demands my immediate attention, that was close enough to a stop, I didn't drink that much, I am too important to be inconvenienced by legal behaviour and if more than 40,000 people a year have to die because of it, so be it.
You can read the IIHS Status Report here if you're interested.
In the meantime, be careful out there.