On August 17, 1896, Mrs. Bridgette Driscol of Croydon entered the history books as the first pedestrian fatality in the UK. Folklore holds that at the inquest into her death the Coroner, Mr. Morrison, said, “This must never happen again.” Mr. Morrison is also credited with being the first Coroner to apply the term “accident” to a death caused by a speeding vehicle. One hundred and eleven years later the number of reoccurrences of this type of “accident” has reached into the multi-millions.
Motor carnage is almost considered to be a normal and even acceptable part of everyday life. Canada’s statistics, for example, are comparatively “good to excellent” at only approximately 2,500 fatalities and 30,000 injuries per year. Health Canada and Transport Canada reported in 2004 that Canada had the fifth lowest rate among the 30 OEDC member-countries on the basis of traffic deaths per billion vehicle kilometers traveled, and the thirteenth lowest rate when measured as deaths per 100,000 population.
We are appalled when many people are hurt or killed in a single incident. The recent tragedy in Abbottsford in which a southbound pickup truck driven by a 71-year-old hit a family group of pedestrian, killing 6 and injuring 17 was an excruciating front page/lead story for many days.
The following statement from commentator Dinesh Mohan is irrefutable: “Road traffic injuries are the only public health problem for which society and decision-makers still accept death and disability… on a large scale. This … is seen as a justifiable externality of doing business: the only discussion revolves around the number of deaths and injuries that are acceptable.” (Mohan, D. 2003. Road traffic injuries—a neglected pandemic. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 81 (9): 684–5.)
In their recent paper, “Overcoming Barriers to Creating a Well Functioning Safety Culture: a Comparison of Australia and The United States”, Allan F. Williams and Narelle Haworth, propose that our collective apathy toward motor carnage is attributable partly to “the largely unvarying number of yearly deaths and [partly to] the manner in which highway deaths are distributed and tallied”—usually in ones and twos across the country.
The study goes on to suggest that the primary cause of the problem is people’s attitude to driving:
We all drive. We all know that crashes often happen, and…that driver behavior is usually a contributing factor. …People think, in general, that they are less likely than the average person to encounter negative events, and this is particularly the case for driving. It is well known from risk-perception research that in very familiar activities there is a tendency to minimize the possibility of bad outcomes as a way of allaying personal concerns. People underestimate risks that are supposed to be under their control. They insulate themselves by creating “illusory zones of immunity” around routine, everyday activities…bolstered by [their] beliefs that their driving and crash avoidance skills are above average. Surveys around the world have indicated that most people think their driving skills are superior…. It is the mythical “other driver” who is the problem.
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