Party platforms ignore highway deaths

Photo (c) Uzfoto - Fotolia

Gun violence gets a lot of attention, though its toll is lower than vehicle violence

There are quite a few things that can kill you. Take guns, for example. They kill 33,000 people in the United States each year. Traffic accidents can kill you too. They kill 35,000 people each year and permanently disable many more.

About 200 people survive gunshot wounds each day while twice that many survive car crashes, often with serious and life-changing injuries. 

Politicians and their handlers talk endlessly about guns. Some are for them, some against. They don't have much to say about traffic deaths though, and highway safety advocates think that's -- as the FBI recently said about one Presidential candidate -- careless though not quite criminal.

"Like all dads, I worry about my girls’ safety all the time," President Obama said at in his weekly radio address on Father's Day. "Especially when we see preventable violence in places our sons and daughters go every day – their schools and houses of worship, movie theaters, nightclubs, as they get older."

This puzzles safety advocates like Louis V. Lombardo, an auto safety researcher and retired government scientist.

"So why does the President, that I voted for twice, continue to miss talking about vehicle violence after nearly 250,000 vehicle deaths and 1 million serious vehicle injuries under his administration?" Lombardo asked recently in his Care for Crash Victims blog. "We need an end to this strange indifference to vehicle violence."

Platforms are silent

Lombardo took a look at the draft Democratic Party platform that will be hammered into final form at the party's convention later this month. It addresses the following topics: 
  • Universal Health Care;
  • Community Health Centers;
  • Prescription Drug Costs;
  • Medical Research;
  • Drug and Alcohol Addiction;
  • Mental Health;
  • Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice;
  • Public Health;
  • Violence Against Women and Sexual Assault; and 
  • Gun Violence Prevention.

Worthy though these topics may be, depending on your point of view, Lombardo is puzzled about why the rising tide of what we might called traffic violence isn't mentioned.

The government's very own National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently noted a 9.3 % increase in fatalities in early 2015. Smaller increases over the last several years have ended a lengthy period during which the death toll declined or remained relatively stable.

Vision Zero

NHTSA blames driver behavior for the carnage, but Lombardo and others say the Obama Administration and its predecessors haven't put enough time and money into reversing the trend despite the pleas of safety advocates who have been calling for a Vision Zero policy that would be dedicated to reducing traffic deaths to zero.

“It’s time to drive behavioral changes in traffic safety and that means taking on new initiatives and addressing persistent issues like drunk driving and failure to wear seat belts,” said Dr. Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

But groups like AnnaLeaha and Mary for Truck Safety say there's a lot more to it than that. The organization is named for two sisters killed when their car was hit by a tractor-trailer truck during a freeway slowdown. The truck driver had been on the road for too many hours and the truck did not have adequate "underride" protection -- both factors that NHTSA can and should regulate more tightly, the group argues.

So, Lombardo wonders, why are both parties so silent on the issue of traffic safety -- something that nearly everyone surely would support?

Could it be money? Automotive interests contribute about $15 million to candidates from both parties, according to Democrats picked up about $1.7 million from groups pushing for gun control while Republicans got about $11 million from gun rights groups, again according to OpenSecrets.

Could it be lack of voter interest? Groups like DangerousJeeps and AnnaLeaha and Mary have gathered thousands of signatures on petitions seeking more aggressive government action, but such efforts don't make much of a dent in a political landscape populated by hot-button social issues.
Lombardo, who was once a NHTSA program manager, doesn't claim to have the answer. He is, however, applying modern marketing methods as he tries to reposition the issue by referring to it as "vehicle violence" instead of traffic deaths. Whether any of the candidates take the bait remains to be seen. 

Quick and easy. Get matched with an Auto Warranty partner.