More autoAmerican anarchy

It’s been a while since our last edition of aAA. And so much has happened that it’s hard to know where to start.

Let’s start with the kids in and around my own city of Gainesville. Recently a 4-year old boy was run down and killed on East University Avenue. This after our city has been, for more than a year, been trying mightily from trying to keep motorists from killing kids on West University Avenue. (Clue: East University Avenue and West University Avenue are the same avenues…only one runs past the University of Florida and the other separates a lot of East Gainesville kids from their neighborhood park.)

A week later, in the nearby community of Flemington, a 10-year-old boy was killed while trying to cross a county road to catch his school bus. “After striking the child, the vehicle veered off the highway, struck a mailbox and a tree, and then stopped, the patrol reported,” said the Gainesville Sun.

And while we’re on the subject of kids and cars, here’s this from Streetsblog: “All Hallow’s Eve is the single most deadly day of the year for the littlest pedestrians, with drivers claiming the lives of three times as many young road users than any other date. But despite these troubling stats, it’s also a perennial excuse for government officials to warn families to keep themselves safe on the streets — without doing much to make those streets safer.”

Remember when all we had to worry about on Halloween was ghosts and goblins?

By the way, in case you’ve been wondering about the State Of autoAmerican Anarchy in 2021, rest assured: Drivers have been roaring back from their Covid imposed isolation: Traffic fatalities in the U.S. continued to surge during the first half of 2021, increasing 18.4% over the same period last year, leading to 20,160 deaths, according to a report issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It’s the largest number of projected fatalities in that time period since 2006.

A companion NHTSA research note cited a rise in risky driving behaviors, including speeding and failure to use seat belts, along with alcohol and drug use, as contributing factors. Vehicle crashes became more severe beginning in the latter part of 2020, with more patients needing high-level trauma care.

But rest assured, this hasn’t escaped notice.

“The federal Department of Transportation is talking about radically changing federal roadway safety policy after new stats showed the largest six-month increase in roadway fatalities ever recorded by the agency,” reports Streetsblog.

We can of course expect quick action from the same highway engineers who have turned autoAmerican Anarchy into a national contact sport. A change of heart at US DOT “would be a stark contrast to the DOT’s current approach, which NACTO Executive Director Corinne Kisner says “often place[s] other priorities — like the unfettered flow of vehicles — above or on par with saving lives.”

Incorporating the safe systems philosophy into national policy has been a central goal of the street safety advocacy community for years, and has become a core recommendation of forward thinking transportation leaders over the last few years

Well maybe this time they’re serious.

If 40,000 Americans died each year in airplane crashes, we’d shut down the airlines until we stopped the carnage. “This year so far, 21,450 people have died in motor vehicle accidents, up 17 percent from 2019, according to preliminary estimates by the National Safety Council released last month. More than 2.4 million have been injured seriously enough to require medical attention,” notes Eric Sagen on NBCNews.com.

“Usually when millions of Americans are being killed or injured at these rates, it triggers public outcry, even widespread movements. But when it comes to car accidents, we’ve mostly shrugged our shoulders and accepted the carnage as an unavoidable fact of life,” he continues….”Envisioning an alternative to this mess might be impossible for many of us, but we have to. However complicated the issue is, the logic is simple: We need to open our eyes and see that we’re at the end of the road.”

And let’s not kid ourselves: Size matters when it comes to autoAmerican Anarchy. “To put it simply, pickup trucks and SUVs are two to three times more likely than smaller personal vehicles to kill people walking in the event of a crash. Recent research from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee found the share of pedestrian deaths involving trucks, vans, and SUVs has increased from 22 to 44 percent since the mid-1980s. More SUVs and trucks in the fleet = more pedestrian injuries becoming deaths instead.”

You don’t need a PhD to see why trucks and SUVs are more likely to kill people walking: They’re taller, have worse visibility, and are more likely to produce head/neck injuries than leg injuries.

This from Smart Growth America. But where is the politician or regulator who will stand up and say “smaller is better” ?

By the way, our national passion for ever bigger, ever more powerful and ever more expensive death machines….um…I mean automobiles, is not just killing us….it’s put us on the road to financial ruin. This from Consumer Reports:

“Today, Americans with new-car loans make an average monthly payment approaching $600—up roughly 25 percent from a decade ago…in recent years, tens of thousands of consumers have found themselves in financial sinkholes after receiving high-interest, longer-term auto loans that, like the Maryland resident, put them at serious risk of default, CR’s investigation found.

This is happening as total auto loan debt held by Americans has increased dramatically over the past 10 years, surpassing $1.4 trillion – more than the gross domestic product of Australia.”

Still, if we are going to drive to the poor house, we might as well do it in style.

Incidentally, if you worry about distracted drivers – and who doesn’t? – you ain’t seen nothing yet. Consider this from Slate.com

“Today’s infotainment systems can be as distracting—if not more so—than personal electronic devices,” says Jennifer Homendy, the newly confirmed chair of the National Transportation Safety Board. The federal government blames distraction for around 10 percent of the 38,680annual traffic fatalities in the United States, but that’s almost certainly an underestimate, since people aren’t inclined to admit they were fiddling with a phone or a navigation system prior to a crash.

The problem isn’t necessarily that infotainment displays are now a standard feature of all new vehicles; in theory, at least, they’re preferable to drivers squinting to read a phone while operating a vehicle. But these systems are rapidly becoming glitzier, more complicated, and just plain bigger, with some resembling supersized tablets attached to your car console.
Meanwhile, they’re essentially unregulated.

And let’s face it, having to keep an eye on the road for women, children and other living things can be soooo boring.

Oh, and if you think this whole business of walking vs. driving isn’t a political issue, think again. Consider this report from Vice.com:

“According to a recent Pew Research Center poll that studied the issue of whether people prefer to live in places where “schools, stores, and restaurants are within walking distance” versus where they are “several miles away,” the biggest divide in opinion is not young versus old, urban versus rural, or education level. It is political preference.

“Just 22 percent of Conservatives want to live in walkable neighborhoods, while 77 percent prefer driving everywhere. A slightly higher percentage of Republicans or people who lean Republican as a whole, 26 percent, want walkable neighborhoods. Meanwhile, 44 percent of moderate Democrats and 57 percent of liberals want walkable neighborhoods, resulting in a 50/50 split among Democrats as a whole.”

Face it, there’s nothing red staters and blue staters won’t fight about.

Aaron Dome has been trying for years to get Detroit to install speed humps on his residential neighborhood in order to slow down speeding drivers. But he’s taking some time off from that now.

Reports Fox2Detroit: Dome was pulling into their driveway off Lakewood Street on Detroit‘s east side when a speeding truck rear-ended him last week. The driver was going double the speed limit.

“We have said it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt and the fact is has to be the biggest advocate of street safety, is heartbreaking,” his girlfriend, Megan Summers told Fox. “It was the most frightening and nightmarish sound that I’ve ever heard. He was slouched over, unconscious, bleeding profusely from his head and my first thought was he is not going to live. It was the scariest moment of my life.”

Hey, remember that Texas teen who tried to “roll carbon” smoke over a bunch of cyclists and ran into six of them instead (just a joke, man. Can’t you take a joke?” That was back in September and he hasn’t been charged yet. Should he be? Not according to his lawyer.

No word on the aspirations of the cyclists he ran down. Still, it was just a joke.

Anyway, Texas has already moved on from that unfortunate incident with still more carnage against cyclists.

“A Massachusetts man was killed outside Houston Saturday when a driver crashed into a group of cyclists who were near the midway point of a 2,400-mile cross-country bicycle ride,” reports the Chronicle. “The driver was released from the scene without charges or a citation despite the initial police note about his speed. Investigators with Texas DPS are continuing to piece together what happened and will determine if charges are to be filed…The driver was three miles away from home when the crash occurred.”

Oh, and the dead cyclist? “In Massachusetts, (Kent) Wosepka was highly involved and wore many hats, including painter, community activist and board of trustees chair at the Montserrat College of Art.”

And finally there is this: Given American obsession with faster and more powerful cars, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised to find that ebike manufactures are following suit: Reports Bloomberg CityLab, some ebikes capable of doing up to 40 mph are coming on the market. “It’s easy to see how we arrived at this moment. The e-bike market is exploding, posting an annual growth rates of 240% in the U.S., according to the market research firm NPD Group, and driving rival manufacturers to search for an edge. “Bike companies want to innovate and break records,” says Noa Banayan, the director of federal affairs for PeopleforBikes, an industry group. “That’s something you’re seeing evolving with e-bikes right now.”

Should government step in? It’s a dilemma. Bloomberg adds: “Lax rules for super-fast bikes could place cyclists and pedestrians in danger, but overly onerous ones could jeopardize the opportunity for two-wheeled vehicles to supplant the automobile, a transition that many environmental and urban advocates are eager to see.”

You just can’t win in the jungle we call autoAmerican anarchy.

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