The Corpus Callosum

Where the Rubber Hits the Road…

…and the steel hits the flesh. 

Mark Rosenberg, MD, representing the Paul G. Rogers
Society for Global Health Research
, had an opinion piece published
in the Boston Globe.  He makes a good point about health.  It
is not just doctors and hospitals.  Urban design, and
infrastructure maintenance have a role to play.

that are designed to kill

By Mark Rosenberg
August 18, 2009

…Most people think we are doing all that can be done to keep our
roads safe. They are wrong. Road traffic injuries kill more than a
million people a year worldwide, including 40,000 a year in the United
States. We will continue to have drivers who are too young or too old,
too distracted, or too bold, but we can change our roads so they help
protect both drivers and pedestrians…

He points out that rich, humanistically-oriented countries — such as
Sweden — spend money to save lives by preventing traffic
accidents.  Also counties like Ghana.  But the USA? 

Not so much.  We only spend money to save lives, if the threats
come from people whom it is convenient — and profitable — to hate.

(I’ve mentioned a few times that the global and perpetual war on
terrorism is dumb.  We could save more lives, and a lot of money,
simply with tougher enforcement of traffic laws.)

Rosenberg is advocating an approach similar to that taken in Sweden,
with their Vision Zero program.  (Strange name, seems to
imply the opposite of what you want while driving; perhaps it doesn’t
translate well.)

This campaign is not new.  It was mentioned
in the Washington Post in 2007.  It was discussed on Streetsblog
in 2008:

Based on a zero tolerance attitude, Sweden has strategized
to eliminate all fatalities and serious injuries on its road transport
system by 2020…More than 250 New Yorkers are killed in
automobile-related crashes every year, and it’s not unusual for City
officials to tout these historically low numbers as evidence that they
are doing their jobs well, as if exchanging 250 lives is a reasonable
trade for mobility.

Oh, I guess that explains the strange name.  But names aside,
think for a minute about what it means, that we are willing to trade
the lives of about ~37,000
people, per year, for greater convenience in getting to McDonald’s.


  1. #1 Janne
    August 28, 2009

    It’s “vision” as in aspiration, dream or plan: as in having a clear vision on how something could be in the future. But yes, it sounds much better in Swedish.

  2. #2 D. C. Sessions
    August 28, 2009

    I don’t think the numbers support your contention that the USA is a disproportionately dangerous country to drive in. With 5% of the world’s population, we have 4% of the traffic fatalities. No question we should do better, but let’s not overstate the case.

    Cheap example: left turn after (rather than before) green is proven to save lives and improve traffic flow. All it costs is a programming change, but it’s only in use in a few cities.

  3. #3 speedwell
    August 28, 2009

    D.C., I’m confused. Does the U.S. have five percent of the world’s population, or five percent of the world’s drivers?

  4. #4 Barry Leiba
    August 28, 2009

    D.C.: Interesting that you should say this, because I just blogged about the very thing here: “Green lights and left turns

    I only talked about traffic flow there, though. Do you have a pointer to the life-saving aspect?

    Joseph, this is an interesting point overall. Our collective bias on this is consistent with our disproportionate fear of the spectacular, as opposed to the mundane. We’re unreasonably afraid of, say, a once-a-year explosion that kills 50 people, and unreasonably complacent about routine daily events that kill many times that.

    As long as that bias is there — and it’s largely unconscious, and hard to accept even when it’s pointed out — we won’t be willing to change this.

  5. #5 Mark P
    August 28, 2009

    Consider traffic light cameras to catch, cite and fine people who run red lights. My home town installed a couple. Then the state required that the duration of the yellow light be increased to a certain minimum. Red light running was decreased so much that the city could no longer afford to keep the traffic light cameras (because they rely on money from fines to pay a private company that installs the lights). The stated justification for the cameras was to increase safety. Everyone was worried about losing money and the cameras and no one seemed to care that the stated end could be achieved without spending money.

  6. #6 D. C. Sessions
    August 28, 2009

    Barry, you can get a lot of the information from the city of Scottsdale, AZ. They actually do (gasp!) research with controls on traffic management. I haven’t looked (since I was in the neighborhood while it was all happening) but a search might turn up quite a bit.

  7. #7 D. C. Sessions
    August 29, 2009

    Does the U.S. have five percent of the world’s population, or five percent of the world’s drivers?

    The USA has 5% of the world’s population: 300M vs. 6000M.

    It has far more than 5% of the world’s drivers, which would indicate that the USA is safer than average. However, I prefer to understate my case rather than argue over whether I’ve overstated it.

  8. #8 symball
    September 18, 2009

    having done a quick google I found figures showing that there were approx 4.9 fatal accidents per 10000 people in sweden compared to 14.7 in the USA, this isn’t just a fluke.

    There is no point comparing the US with the average, this includes many nations whose road networks are very underdeveloped and dangerous.- look at equivalent countries like Great Britain (5.4) Australia (7.7) or Japan (5.7)and you can see the US is far worse than most other countries- even worse than France (7.7) or Italy (9.7) who are famous for having dangerous drivers. (

New comments have been disabled.