People Are Dying On American Streets In Record Numbers And We Don't Have A Good Solution

People Are Dying On American Streets In Record Numbers And We Don't Have A Good Solution

Cars are safer than they have ever been, with an ever-increasing number of driver assistance systems, advanced impact safety, and more airbags than you can count. Unfortunately, cars are getting better at protecting their occupants, but the roads and the drivers are getting worse at an unsustainable rate. 2021 was the deadliest year since 2005 with 42,939 people killed on American roads, and 2022 saw another 42,795 perish.

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Deadly road design, vehicle size and weight, and risky driving behaviors are likely the root cause, though some experts say a reduction in traffic enforcement is to blame. 2020 was a sea change for a number of reasons. Drivers picked up bad habits during COVID shutdowns, and police became 60 percent less likely to stop a vehicle for violating traffic laws (due to nationwide protests over police brutality, which raises its own questions).

The problem is two-fold. We need to crack down on deadly driving habits, but we also don’t want to increase interaction between police and the public. A recent Vox article posits the best way forward is to follow Europe’s lead and install traffic cameras everywhere.

America’s police are poorly trained for civilian interaction, treating every person as a potential hostile in a warzone. In many cases, they can be a greater danger to the American public than whatever illegal activity they’re attempting to stop. Car chases, choke holds, gunfire, flashbangs, no-knock warrants, and excessive force are de rigueur. Obviously, it is a good thing that Americans are interacting with cops less on the day-to-day. Bringing the number of cops stopping cars up would be a net negative, regardless.

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Red light cameras, speeding cameras, license plate recognition cameras, they’re all a descent into a dystopian surveillance state. If you’re averse to being under the thumb of Big Brother, you’ll understand the desire to avoid this eventuality. While it may provide the requisite punishment for drivers speeding or running red lights, causing them to drive safer in the future, it’s probably not the right move anyway.

To really put a dent in traffic fatalities, we need to cut our problems off at the roots. Distracted driving is maybe the biggest contributor to traffic fatalities (particularly when pedestrians are killed), which cell phone manufacturers could solve tomorrow with an over-the-air update restricting drivers to emergency calls and music apps when driving. Car companies (or lawmakers) could come together to stop drunk driving by installing standard ignition interlocks. States could work diligently to reform driver education and licensing requirements. They could also require regular vehicle safety inspections. Cities could invest in public transit. The NHTSA could set standards for vehicle frontal impact heights, reducing the grille heights of new trucks and SUVs. Roads could be redesigned to slow drivers down and promote better visibility at crosswalks.

There are a dozen ways to make the roads safer. None of them have to include increased police presence or overzealous traffic camera operations. Instead of always immediately looking for a stick to beat people into submission, why not dangle a carrot instead?