The World Health Organization informs us that 1.25 million people are killed on our highways each year. That would average um … about one person killed on a highway every 25 seconds. One third of these people are pedestrians or cyclists. Over 70% of these deaths occur in the so-called middle income countries.
Globally, the risk of traffic related death is measured by the number of fatalities per 100,000 in population. It was no surprise to find the highest number of fatalities in African and Eastern Mediterranean countries. Although I did imagine fatalities would be higher in Italy where anyone getting on a Vespa is just asking for it.
Now, if we were trying to understand so many deaths, then one reason could be that only 7% of the world’s countries have adequate traffic laws, but I also imagine that it might be hard to find a safe driver who is also illiterate. We may be able to keep morons from operating motor vehicles, but I’m not so sure there is much we can do about simpletons who walk rather erratically along our roadways.
Next up, the number of deaths that result from toxic air. The World Health Organization tells us that 7 million people die each year from breathing polluted air. The number of pollutant-related deaths in the United Kingdom, by comparison, is 40,000 annually.
Dr. Frank Kelly (King’s College, London) suggests that if we are worried about air toxicity, then we should probably stop clamoring about converting to electric vehicles: it won’t help, he said. True, electric vehicles produce no exhaust fumes, but that’s not what is killing us. What IS killing us are minuscule particles from brake and tire dust … from which there is no acceptable safe limit. (Note: Tony Blair’s cabinet convinced many Britons to convert to diesel engines, since, he told them, diesel fuel is ecologically safer. It was an unfathomable proposition, but many people bought into it. Now the government has taken the opposite stance and anyone in the UK driving a diesel-powered vehicle is either precluded from entering a city, or taxed into oblivion for owning one. Still, what Kelly suggests is fewer cars inside our cities, period. This may not be a bad idea if you’ve ever attempted to find a parking place inside any British city.
By the way … one commission reported that HALF of all particulate matter comes from brakes and tire dust, but I feel we need to have some perspective here: given a world population of 7.5 billion souls, less than 10% of the population dies from air pollution. In the United Kingdom, experts tell us 40,000 people die each year due to toxic substances in the air … or, .04% of the population.
I could personally embrace Dr. Kelly’s suggestion, if for no other reason than finding a parking place inside British cities is far too difficult. Yes, the park and ride schemes here are much simpler to deal with, but even that won’t have much of a life-savings impact. Buses propelled by natural gas still produce brake and tire dust; if all automobiles are banned from inside the city limits, the number of buses may double or triple.
It’s a zero-sum game.
No, what we must do to save lives is develop vehicles that can levitate—you know, like in the Jetson’s. Well, either that, or we’ll have to accept the notion that no one lives forever. In life, we all take our chances.