fellow named Tom Vanderbilt has written a 402-page book about traffic – as in
lots of cars and honking horns. That
doesn't sound like a page-turning thriller.
But along with some fascinating details about our driving habits, Traffic:
Why We Drive the Way We Do offers a startling suggestion that could keep
you up at night if it were applied to you.
says it's time to stop calling some of the incidents that result in traffic
deaths accidents. Forty-one thousand
people died on America's roads last year, and Vanderbilt says the deaths
weren't all due to happenstance, mechanical breakdowns, unforeseen events, or
so-called acts of God. Drunk, drugged,
sleepy, and rampaging drivers kill so many people, Vanderbilt points out, that
the respected British Medical Journal stopped using the word accident in
2001. It prefers injident, meaning injury-producing incident.
e-mail to VOA, Vanderbilt notes that we rarely use the word accident to
describe airplane crashes, because, as he puts it, it implies, "Oh well,
there's really no way to avoid this; mistakes happen, etc." Yet, Vanderbilt says, even traffic
fatalities involving horrendously reckless behavior are treated as "bad
luck,' wrong place/wrong time, and then we basically move on.
believes that one result of this cavalier attitude is that penalties for
snuffing out lives with a car are vastly more lenient than judgments against
people who kill by other means. First-time offenders, in particular, can kill somebody and never spend a
day in jail.
we can all imagine it happening to us, Vanderbilt writes, we seem as a society
to want to avoid heavy penalties for so-called accidental killings. . . . The
result is that there's little incentive to act in a much safer manner on the
Why We Drive the Way We Do, by Tom Vanderbilt, is published by Knopf.]