It’s clear we have a problem. What’s the solution? In a word, complicated.
Part of the problem, of course, is that over the last 50-60 years, we built a massively car-dependent country and culture, and that wasn’t an accident:
Through the effective lobbying of a special interest group, the Automobile Association, our public roads were hijacked to serve the needs of the few. As this special interest group lobbied on, public transportation was effectively swept out of main stream use. All public roads, including the very ones in front of our residences have been made to feel unsafe and to be unsafe for anyone who wished to use them without the use of an automobile.*
Except for people living in urban centers with transit, and the small mode share of cyclists and pedestrians, most people cannot conceive of getting anywhere without a car. And many of those people are right — they are in a car-dependent situation (whether it’s driving a car themselves or being driven). If you take the keys away from grandpa or your teenage daughter, you/they now have to find another way of getting from Point A to Point B:
The minute you hold people accountable for being competent drivers, the percent of the population that will be ineligible to drive a car will be too large to ignore.
We can ignore [those] who have fallen on hard times and can’t afford to drive. [They] are easy to marginalize. But when we eliminate the high risk populations (teen-to-mid-twenties who lack maturity for good judgment; the elderly who no longer have the cognitive ability or reflexes; and the recidivist, irresponsible [people] who seem to retain a valid license even after proving time and again they don’t deserve it), then we’re looking at a population too large to marginalize. We’re not willing to do it because we’d have to rethink our lifestyles.”
In a way, we’ve driven and engineered ourselves into a literal dead end here.
Are we willing to change? Or do we just accept these lost lives — lives of pedestrians, bicyclists, and motor vehicle occupants — as [yet another] “cost” of our car culture?
Here’s one possible starting point:
If we had the political will to change one single thing that would cause a cascade of positive safety consequences (and probably policy consequences), it would be to increase the cost and rigor for obtaining a license and make it easier for the state to revoke a license from a recidivist offender.**
We can reform drivers’ education and licensing, both standardizing the process across all states (in Iowa, I completed a fairly decent drivers’ ed course to get my license in high school; across the border in Missouri, Matthew had no such requirements), and modeling it on rigorous programs in other countries — we don’t have to reinvent the wheel here.
At the same time, we need to continue the work that is being done to increase transportation options for those who would not have a drivers’ license in the new system (and those who have licenses but crave other options!) and [re]create communities and cities that are not car-dependent. Fortunately, these changes have benefits that go far beyond making the roads safer: more vibrant communities and local economies, as well as the physical and mental health rewards of active transportation.
Let’s Make a Change!
- Start at home.
- Analyze your own driving habits. Are distractions and/or bad habits endangering your life, those of your passengers, and everyone else you encounter on the road? It only takes a split second for a collision to occur. Reduced attention and reaction time costs lives. Pay attention!
- Recognize bicyclists as fellow humans and equal road users.
- Practice patience, whether it’s a slow motorist, a bus making frequent stops, a pedestrian crossing the street, or a woman biking to work. We all have places to go. If we’re aware and respectful, we will all get there. Breathe.
- Try an alternate way of getting from Point A to Point B (i.e., making a trip without your car), whether it’s walking, riding a bike, or using transit.
- Are there people in your life who need to hang up the keys? Here are some good resources:
- Support policies that call for stricter licensing requirements, better education, and stiffer penalties for offenders.
- Support investments in public transportation and safe, well-engineered infrastructure improvements.
This is a complex problem. Change will be neither fast nor easy, but it is possible.