32,719 people died in U.S. traffic crashes in 2013. Two of those people were my daughters, AnnaLeah (17) and Mary (13). That number decreased to 32,675 deaths in 2014–down by 44, but still far too many deaths in my book. In fact, early estimates show 2015 trending higher.
And how many of those deaths were due to truck underride and could have been prevented by a stronger, more effective underride protection system? Underride deaths are preventable and unnecessary and now is the time to take extreme action to reduce these deaths–no matter who caused the crash!
I survived a horrific truck crash in which our car was pushed by a truck into the rear of another truck. Backwards. My daughters in the back seat were not so fortunate; they went under the truck and the truck broke their innocent bodies.
Let’s not wait for collision avoidance technology to kick in before kicking out preventable underride deaths!
The underride problem is just one example of the fixable problems we need to address. Michael Lemov has written an eye-opener, Car Safety Wars: One Hundred Years of Technology, Politics, and Death in which he tells us that in the more than 110 years since the first traffic crash in 1898, more than 3.5 million Americans have been killed and more than 300,000,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes [p.9]. This, I learned, is 3x the number of Americans who have been killed and 200x the number wounded in all of the wars fought by our nation since the Revolution [p.10]. Imagine.
Are you aware that Death by Motor Vehicle is one of the leading causes of deaths?
Worldwide it was estimated that 1.2 million people were killed and 50 million more were injured in motor vehicle collisions in 2004. Also in 2010 alone, around 1.23 million people were killed due to traffic collisions. This makes motor vehicle collisions the leading cause of death among children 10–19 years of age (260,000 children die a year, 10 million are injured) and the sixth leading preventable cause of death in the United States (45,800 people died and 2.4 million were injured in 2005). It is estimated that motor vehicle collisions caused the deaths of around 60 million people during the 20th century, around the same as the number of World War II casualties.
Lemov’s book sheds light on many things including the fact that, although the blame was often put on the driver for crashes in the 20th century, in fact crashes and crash deaths are additionally caused by other factors including environmental and vehicle factors. He uses a term which I had never heard before–post-crash injury or “second collision.” He describes it this way: ”
It is the collision of the occupants of a vehicle with its interior, or the road, after the initial impact of a car crash. Ultimately the creativity of a few scientists, doctors, and investigators. . . developed an understanding of what actually happens to a human body in a car crash. . . Researchers gradually developed ideas they hoped would prevent this second collision. [p.16]
We can thank these researchers for paving the way for improved vehicle safety, including things like seat belts, air bags, and even car seats that lock in position. But, for far too long, it has been a major battle –as Lemov says, a car safety war — to bring about changes which will save lives.
Our own crash demonstrated the many factors which can contribute to the occurrence of crashes as well as to the deaths and horrific injuries which too often occur as a result. We learned the hard way that many of these are preventable and that Our Crash Was Not An Accident.
Following our truck crash, on May 4, 2013, we have learned more than we ever wanted to about traffic safety issues. We took the AnnaLeah & Mary Stand Up for Truck Safety – Save Lives and Prevent Injuries! Petition to DC on May 5, 2014 and helped to initiate an update in the underride protection for tractor-trailers.
Following that, we worked to promote underride research and have helped to organize an international Underride Roundtable on Thursday, May 5, 2016, when researchers, government officials, and industry leaders will gather to discuss truck underride crashes and how to reduce the risks for passenger vehicle occupants, bicyclists, and pedestrians. We will explore the scope of the problem and how regulation and voluntary action can help address it. There will also be a demonstration of underride guard performance in a crash test.
But, along the way, as I engaged in safety advocacy efforts — calling, emailing, and meeting with legislators — I quickly realized that all too-often it was 2 steps forward 3 steps backward. I began to ask, “Why is it so difficult to get anything done to save lives?” and “Why isn’t the best possible protection being adopted?”
I learned that one of the biggest obstacles was that public policy and more specifically DOT rulemaking is impacted by a requirement for cost/benefit analysis which tips the scale in the favor of industry lobby and the almighty dollar and makes a mockery out of the word safety. Human life becomes devalued in the process when a safety measure is rejected because it “may not have significant safety consequence.”
This is illustrated in the history of Federal rulemaking on truck underride guards outlined by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, where it was indicated that in
1974: US Secretary of Transportation says deaths in cars that underride trucks would have to quadruple before underride protection would be considered cost beneficial.
I determined to battle such an inconceivable, incomprehensible, and unconscionable attitude and determined to find a better way to protect travelers on the road. After talking with numerous engineers who either were convinced that safer underride guards could be made or had already designed ones, I also discovered a global movement that calls for the reduction of crash deaths and serious injuries: Vision Zero – An ethical approach to safety and mobility.
After launching an online petition Save Lives Not Dollars: Urge DOT to Adopt a Vision Zero Policy on September 29, 2015, I discovered that an Executive Order had been signed by Clinton which had set in place the cost/benefit analysis rulemaking policy which all too-often delays or blocks traffic safety regulations. I immediately set out to petition President Obama to set a National Vision Zero Goal with the establishment of a White House Task Force to Achieve a Vision Zero Goal of Crash Death Reduction. Furthermore, I believe that it is necessary to cancel out the negative impact of Executive Order 12866 in order to end this senseless war over safety. That is why I am asking President Obama to sign a new Vision Zero Executive Order.
Why are we devoting our lives to pushing for a DOT Vision Zero policy? Because I truly believe that it can have an impact not just on truck safety but on all issues related to highway and auto safety–including auto safety defects, driver training requirements, all kinds of impaired driving (including distracted driving, drunk driving, and driving while fatigued), and proven national traffic safety standards which should be adopted by all states.
Add your voice to ours! Sign & share our Vision Zero Petition. Help us persuade President Obama to set a National Vision Zero Goal & to sign a Vision Zero Executive Order which will allow DOT to adopt a Vision Zero rulemaking policy.
We are taking these petitions (almost 16,000 signatures to date) to Washington, DC, on March 4, where we will be meeting with DOT policy officials to discuss the need for this radical change in how our nation protects the travelers on our roads.
It is time to stop acting like the value of a human life can be measured with and compared to corporate $$$. Every delay costs someone their life.
Let’s get it right, America. Somebody’s life depends on it. Lots of somebodies.