Comparing Gun Carnage with Auto Deaths Is A Flawed Argument – Forbes
In the wake of the appalling deaths, pain, suffering and havoc wreaked by madmen with guns from Columbine to Newtown to Orlando and, recently, Las Vegas, any and all possible sensible solutions should be proffered and examined.
Some, however, point to the progress made in the auto industry in preventing or reducing deaths and injuries over the last thirty years as an example of how American gun deaths could be prevented, too.
One less dead or injured person is always a good thing. But comparing gun deaths to auto deaths misses the mark because impaired drivers, speeders and road ragers are only part of what causes the carnage on our highways. The government and automakers have installed about as many safety features on our cars as it’s possible to have. But statistics consistently show that lack of skill behind the wheel is what causes auto crashes, not impaired driving or mechanical failure.
Yet one rarely if ever sees a movement, whether government-sponsored or grass roots, demanding we teach people to be better drivers in the first place. My last driving test, for example, was over 30 years ago. As far as the government is concerned, once was enough. How do they know I don’t pull out of intersections without looking, linger in the left lane at 30 MPH, or follow the car in front of me with inches between our bumpers? Our entire approach to reducing vehicle crashes and deaths is reactive instead of proactive.
As I wrote in the NY Times back in 2002, when my impaired father still insisted on driving despite numerous crashes, getting dangerous or incompetent drivers off the road is almost an impossible task, unless they kill someone. (Dad finally did give up driving, three years before his 2006 death.) The government does not require, as a condition of granting a license, having a direct experience of losing tire traction on a sheet of hidden ice and successfully steering out of it without hitting anything. Your road test usually isn’t taken while hydroplaning in a torrential rainstorm, where visibility is just a few feet in front of your car. Your driver’s ed teacher won’t arrange to have someone pop your tire at 60 MPH and require you to quickly and safely slow down and stop your car. They don’t put your significant other in the passenger seat and start a heated argument. They don’t take you out onto the freeway in 70 MPH traffic and have another person cut in front of you with inches to spare.
Unlike the issue of guns, whose sole purpose is to kill, vehicles’ main function is to transport humans as well as the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the goods we use. It’s the incompetence of drivers largely causing the colossal number of deaths, injuries and billions of dollars’ worth of damage on our highways, as opposed to the maliciousness associated with gun massacres.
“The overwhelming majority of auto deaths and injuries are due to pilot error,” Mike Allen, former senior editor at Popular Mechanics and holder of 11 world land and speed and endurance records said. “The most difficult test a driver will have to take in their life is parallel parking. We’re drying our hair, we’re texting, we’re not paying attention, we react poorly to emergency situations and we’re driving off the road or hitting other cars.”
New and improved safety features on automobiles, whether mandated by the government or voluntarily included by manufacturers, are a great thing. But how much energy do we as a society give to requiring lessons in how to navigate an automobile safely through a variety of circumstances and avoid crashing in the first place? Almost none. Self-driving cars – should they function properly, as mine didn’t – will solve a lot of this problem. But they’re not here yet, and today, someone who thought they were just driving to work or going to the store is instead in a hospital, or on a mortician’s slab.
This is not a pro-or-against guns rant. It’s an attempt to keep one issue separate from another.