For the first time in a decade, U.S. highway deaths increased last year. Although the increase was "only" 1.5 percent, as one news source reported, there were 43,443 fatalities, many of which could have been averted.
That works out to an average of 119 people dying on our roads nationwide each day of the year. We have a fatality crisis on our highways, and most of us don't seem to notice, or care. Do you believe a similar complacence would exist if 119 members of the military were dying each day?
The observance of the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11 revived memories of horrible deaths and many acts of unrelenting heroism. Thank God, and the perseverance of federal and local officials, we have not had a recurrence of that tragic event.
The following thoughts are not intended to diminish the significance of Sept. 11 in any way. However, consider this: Fatalities on U.S. highways last year alone amounted to 14 Sept. 11's.
Describing the mayhem another way: Every month of the year, more of our fellow citizens are dying in traffic accidents than died in the attacks. America's love affair with the automobile is running out of control.
Safer cars, rising deaths
Motorists are driving too fast, too aggressively, selfishly and drunk while not using seat belts. Law enforcement agents cannot seem to cope.
Car manufacturers are making the safest vehicles in history, yet there were 43,443 fatalities in 2005. There are easy-to-use seat belts, powerful brakes, reinforced structures and the best tires in history, yet the carnage continues.
Traffic safety experts do not seem to have an answer for that 1.5 percent increase.
Here's a thought: Never in the past decade has cell phone use matched 2005-06 usage. Is it possible the cell phones are responsible for distracting drivers, leading to highway accidents? If you do not think so, watch those drivers using a cell phone with the left hand negotiating a left-hand turn downtown. Or check the number of motorists on Interstate 26 or Interstate 526 busily engaged in conversation on the phone while seemingly ignoring their primary function, driving responsibly.
Thomas L. Bryant, editor in chief of the respected Road & Track magazine, wrote, "What I don't understand is the need for so many people to be on the phone even when they have nothing of importance to say. Studies have shown that talking on a telephone impairs your ability to concentrate on the task at hand, driving a car and dealing with the traffic around you. Friends, this is serious business."
I realize some of you are accusing me of having the desire to take away your rights of free speech, or whatever. Some of you think you have the right to drive in any fashion you choose, including one-handed. Wrong. You are given a privilege to drive on the nation's highways. You are not given the right to endanger the lives of others.
George Spaulding is a retired General Motors executive and executive-in-residence emeritus at the School of Business and Economics at the College of Charleston.