Safe Driving—The Urgent Need
IT HAS been said of driving that “there is simply no other activity which presents scope for so much mayhem and suffering, but demands so little real sustained training and responsibility.” Have you ever had to dodge out of the way of an oncoming vehicle? As a pedestrian, a passenger, or a driver, have you witnessed a traffic accident and expressed concern at the carnage on the roads?
In Britain “the number of pedestrians killed or seriously injured has been rising for five years.”—The Times.
“About 4,000 men, women and children are killed on Canadian roads . . . every year.”—The Toronto Star.
From 1981 to 1985, motor vehicle accidents in the United States caused 233,200 deaths.—The World Almanac, 1987.
“The car . . . kills more than do tuberculosis, cancer, and heart disease in Rio de Janeiro [Brazil].”—O Estado de S. Paulo.
On a world scale, what does this amount to?
Driving—At a Price
Worldwide, every year an estimated quarter of a million human lives are snuffed out as a result of traffic accidents! According to The Toronto Star, this is “more than all those killed each year in wars, crimes and industrial accidents.”
In Britain the cost of a single road death is assessed at £252,000 ($400,000, U.S.). Why so much? Apart from what has been invested in the individual, his lost earning potential, and material damage, there is the expense of ambulance, hospital, and other services. Unsafe driving is costly indeed!
The “Potential of Killing”
Britain’s former Secretary of State for Transport John Moore finds it “amazing that some 5000 lives are wiped out each year in Britain—and yet there is barely a murmur from the media [and the] British public.” Some road-safety pressure groups claim that ‘killing with a vehicle is in danger of becoming an acceptable form of homicide.’
Despite this apparent lack of concern, one conclusion is inescapable: How you drive may make the difference between life and death for someone, possibly you. Alex Miller, senior driving examiner for Strathclyde Police in Scotland, explains: “Every car is a lethal weapon providing the driver with the potential of killing.”
As a driver, what does that mean to you? It is very thought provoking, is it not? Nevertheless, many operators of vehicles pay it scant attention, especially those who drink and drive.
From the Federal Republic of Germany comes the report that “in 1984 there were 40,332 traffic accidents in which people were killed or maimed and 20,000 involving serious damage to property—all involving drunken drivers.” In Britain alcohol is linked to 1 out of every 3 road deaths.
Do such statistics deter drinking drivers? Not according to a police spokesman in England who observed: “There is still a substantial number of drivers who are prepared to take a chance and put themselves, their families and other road users at risk.” Professor Robert Kendell of Edinburgh University claims that “something like 10 per cent of the male population of [Britain] drive a car at least once a week over the legal limit [of blood alcohol].” What is that, if not pure selfishness?
Some alcoholic-beverage producers in Britain try to alleviate the problem by promoting pub-transport schemes. These involve bus or car-hire companies engaged to transport the drinker to and from his favorite hostelry, whatever his physical condition may be. On a group level, a few drivers who like to drink try to avoid danger by determining in advance which one among them will drive the group home, and who agrees to stay sober and consume only soft drinks. Do these efforts, praiseworthy though they may be, succeed? Reports in the Glasgow Herald claim that such initiatives “are not enough to reduce the incidence of drinking and driving in any significant way.”
What, then, is the answer to the drinking-driver problem? “Ultimately we must make drinking and driving unsociable,” concludes the Warwickshire police chief, Peter Joslin, adding: “Our only advice is: ‘Do not drink and drive.’”
Is this a realistic directive? Some countries strictly enforce their traffic regulations, handing out severe penalties to the drinking driver. Sweden’s legislation empowers the authorities to confiscate the car of a dangerous driver, just as they would take a knife or a gun from the violent criminal. The British Magistrates’ Association reportedly backs a move to ban drivers who fail breath tests whenever it is believed they may commit the offenses again before the case gets to court.
There is, however, more to safe driving than just staying sober.
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Worldwide, every year the number of people killed in traffic accidents exceeds the population of Iceland