Our most dangerous act

Imagine you are hurling through space and time.

Perhaps you are running late. Or you have a long way to go.

And your speedometer begins to creep up….70 mph, 75….80…

No worries. You are encased in a modern vehicle with all of the latest safety features.

And you are on a wide, multi-laned interstate highway designed by experts to accommodate large volumes of traffic moving at high speeds over great distances. 

Perhaps it is high noon. Or the dead of night. There may be fog. Or a bit of rain, or gusting wind.

And all around you are fellow travelers moving at more of less equivalent velocity. 

Except for that troublesome fellow who insists on driving a notch below the speed limit while he stubbornly occupies an inside lane. 

Do you pass him to the right, or stay on his tail?

And what about that rocket jockey, forever darting from one lane to the next and hopping from one empty space to another determined to get out in front of the pack?

And those drivers whose vehicles are 10 times the size and weight of yours. They are pros who work behind the wheel. Surely they can be trusted. 

Say, is that pro nodding off?

Is that woman texting? Is that guy watching a video? Are those tires as bald as they look? Shouldn’t the junk in that truck bed be tied down?

Call it the autoAmerican paradox. 

For most of us, driving is the single most dangerous thing we do in the course of our ordinary lives. 

But because we do so much of it, it is also the most mundane, ordinary and casual function we perform. 

Much of the time we hardly think of its inherent risks. We get behind the wheel. Switch on the ignition. And drive. 

Until that one panic-filled split second when the terror of it all is suddenly driven home to us. 

It must have been like that in the split seconds leading up to that fiery collision last week on I-75.

And just like that seven people were dead. 

Five of them children. 

And once again we were reminded, in brutal fashion, of just how dangerous this most mundane, ordinary and casual act can be. 

And if that gruesome accident grabbed your attention, if only for a moment, then please pause to consider that it really wasn’t so unusual at all.

On any given day in America, about 90 people die in traffic. 

And those kids? Did you know that car crashes are the leading cause of death for American children? Far outpacing gunshots, cancers, drownings, overdoses or other causes of youthful mortality.

Please consider that the sheer, staggering body count on the nation’s highways must surely qualify death by driving as a public health epidemic.

An epidemic that demands full mobilization of our resources and expertise.  

“In 2016 more than 37,000 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes,” so notes the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety in its 2018, 15th annual “Road Map” report.

Add to that some 2.4 million injuries, and Advocates concludes: “This is a major public health epidemic by any measure.”

So let’s talk about that. Please. 

I intend to do so in some of my future columns going into 2019. And up front, I will tell you this: There is no simple answer. No easy solution. No quick fix. No magic cure for this epidemic.

But we really do need to talk about split-second life and death in autoAmerica. It is that important.

(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.)

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