Some Thoughts About U.S. Highway Deaths

vietnam wallI took a sightseeing trip to Washington DC for a day a month ago. I went to the Newseum, which is basically an American history museum, as viewed through newspapers, radio and TV. One of the exhibits was an expose of the Life magazine edition from 1968, where they printed a picture of every U.S. serviceman killed in Vietnam for a one week period, around Memorial Day, 1968. There were over 200 servicemen killed during this one week period. According to the exhibit, this article in Life helped turn the tide of public opinion against the war. The number ‘200’ is simply a statistic when you say it out loud, but when you count it out, one by one, and actually see the pictures of the young men who were killed, then it becomes real.

I am thinking about doing something similar for highway deaths, if I had enough time. It would basically be like the Vietnam Wall, except for highway deaths. If 200 pictures of U.S. servicemen in a week is enough to get the public’s attention, there are 3 times that many people getting killed every week on the road.

We had an accident here locally in the past 6 weeks. 5 people were killed in one accident. The local newspaper carried it for day or so, and then it was quickly forgotten. They never did bother to identify all the dead. If 5 people got killed in a helicopter accident, it would lead the local news for a week. It would probably even be picked up nationally. On the roads? Not so much.

Sometimes fatal car crashes don’t even make the news. If an accident happens in a newspaper dead spot, such as out in the country, desert, or in the middle of the night, it may not be covered at all. If I was a murderer, and I wanted to quietly get rid of 3 people, I’d do it in a car wreck on a rural back road, in the middle of the night. Almost guaranteed to get no press coverage at all. Maybe there’s just so many highway deaths that we’re numb to it. The number of people killed on our roads is appalling, but in reality, we don’t care. Not really.

If it happened all at once, then it might make an impact. For example, if all 32,675 people who were killed on U.S. roads in 2014 died all at once on the last day of the year, then maybe people would sit up and say, ‘hey, what just happened over there?’ To put that in historical perspective, 32,675 Americans have never been killed in one event. I’m pretty sure I’m right on that. I am getting my stats from the Internet, and I’ve never known the Internet to lie to me. Ok, maybe on politics. Anyway, the 1918 Spanish Flu killed approximately 675,000 Americans, but that was stretched out over a several months. The Battle of Normandy killed an estimated 29,204 Americans. Close, but highway deaths are still more. 9/11? Not even close.

They don’t die all at once, of course. Instead, it’s ones and twos, mostly ones; just a sad, depressing, litany of tragedy. I think there are a number of things which could be done to lower the number of dead; most of which having nothing to do with more laws and regulations. Publicity would certainly be one thing, which is why I’m thinking about building my own Vietnam Wall for highway deaths.

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