I should be jumping up and down for joy about the recent launch of the Road to Zero Coalition by the US DOT and the National Safety Council. So it doesn’t feel great to be one of those voices who are saying negative things about this great project.
I do look forward to watching how they coordinate the efforts of many organizations around this country who work to save lives. But I have some concerns about the process:
- Will they make any significant change in the strategies used to address the disturbing public health problem of 35,200+ Deaths by Vehicle Violence each year?
- Will they harness the energy and motivation of survivors/families of victims of vehicle violence?
- Will they mobilize citizens to be a significant part of the solution?
- Will they have a powerful voice to speak on behalf of the vulnerable victims who cannot speak for themselves?
- Will they take steps to address the imbalance of priority in rulemaking of profit over people?
Let’s just consider the last question. One thing which I have learned, after my life was catastrophically up-ended by my two youngest daughters’ deaths from a truck underride crash, is that there appears to be a hesitancy (to put it mildly) to put a meaningful monetary value on the cost of saving human lives.
To begin with, there is the difficulty of getting safety measures to pass the stringent test of the cost/benefit analysis required in federal rulemaking which, in my mind, inordinately favors the cost to industry vs benefit of preventing deaths and serious injuries. This is also reflected in the opposition to increasing the minimum liability insurance for truckers which was set at $750,000 in 1980 and has not been raised since then — despite the current Value of a Statistical Life (VSL) set by DOT at $9.6 million for 2016.
If you have read much of what I write, you might realize that I am in favor of reshaping the rulemaking process to ensure that it properly values human life. But aside from that, let’s just use that $9.6 million and do a little math.
The US DOT announced with the launch of the Road to Zero Coalition that it was committing $1 million/year for three years for grants to non-profit organizations that propose initiatives to save lives. Sounds great, right? But then I took out pen and paper (to get the hands-on sense of the calculation) and worked out the Value of the Statistical Lives of the 35,200 people who died on our roads in 2015 — keeping in mind that it was probably undercounted and does not include the cost of serious injuries.
$9.6 million X 35,200 = $337, 920,000,000 or almost $338 billion in one year alone
Then I decided to take it one step further and calculate the cost of the traffic fatalities over the next 30 years of the Road to Zero strategy to save lives — without taking into account the probable increase in the VSL.
$337,920,000,000 X 30 = $10,137,600,000,000 or over $10 trillion (which includes the cost to society)
And how much is DOT dedicating to this project to try and put a dent on the estimated 1,056,000 Deaths by Vehicle Violence? $3 million (of taxpayer money) — not even 1/3 the supposed value of a person’s life. Why, my two daughters alone were supposedly worth $18.2 million combined in 2013. Two immeasurably precious ones gone far too soon.
$3,000,000 vs $10,137,600,000,000
Now I had trouble even typing those numbers in accurately, so it is entirely possible that I made a mathematical error (didn’t use a calculator). So, please, do the math yourself. And then let me know if you think that we, as a country, are making a truly meaningful effort to do something new to stem the tide of bloodshed.