When the tragedy is perpetrated by a bullet, the cries for gun control ring out. When the tragedy is caused by a truck, what can you say?
In the coming days, politicians will try to convince you that what happened on the West Side Highway in Manhattan this week was an issue of terrorism, immigration, or religion. But just like the plague of mass shootings is a gun problem, the thousands of people killed by cars as they walk our streets every year is a car problem.
The obsession with calling a tragedy “terrorism,” with its nouveau definition of being whatever the unduly passionate say it is, contributes nothing. All of the factors that were involved are in play, but whether a change to any one of them would have thwarted the tragedy, or will prevent any future tragedy, is obscured by the screaming politics that drown out the mourners’ dirge.
But rarely does anyone blame the vehicle, even though trucks and cars kill tons of people.
More than 40,000 Americans were killed by cars in 2016 — the equivalent of a fully-loaded Boeing 747 falling out of the sky once every three days. It’s more than the 33,000 annual gun deaths, and more than the 20,000-plus people killed by synthetic opioids that year. Half of those automobile fatalities occurred in urban areas; about 6,000 of them were pedestrians.
Clearly not as tragic as the trauma of hearing an inappropriate off-color joke, but far more so than most other shocking causes of mass death. Cars kill. We know that. We’ve known that a long time. We pick around the edges of the problem, such as drunk driving, but totally sober drivers kill too. And if and when we have autonomous cars, they too will kill, even if not as much as they do now when sleepy, distracted, or incredibly sucky and selfish drivers who can’t manage their SUVs plow into random innocent people.*
While one could fairly question the attack on cars as being just another facile “hot take” using a tragedy to push an agenda, there is an element of intellectual honesty here that one has to admire. Hating guns is easy. Hating cars? Not so much.
A gun lobbyist would typically step in right about now to ask whether those who demand gun control after mass shootings also want to ban cars after events like this week. To which I say: Hell yes. Cars don’t belong on the streets of big cities, and we should do everything in our power to get rid of them.
You can’t stop crazy. But you can reduce the number of people allowed to drive their 4,000 pound machines into city parks, along city beaches, past playgrounds, and alongside the sidewalks of the most pedestrian-packed places in the nation. If we banned cars from every city in the US tomorrow, we would stop vehicular terrorism overnight — and save thousands of lives.
After spending decades taking the train to Manhattan, then a subway to my office, I dread the occasions when I’m forced to drive. Driving in the city is a nightmare. It’s like Mad Max meets New Jersey (the second-worst drivers in the nation, beaten only by Massachusetts drivers). Friends of mine drove daily. When I asked why they would suffer the traffic, the likelihood of accident, the cost of parking (which is enough to rent a decent two-bedroom apartment in most places), they told me they liked the freedom to come and go as they pleased.
If freedom means sitting for an hour on the World’s Biggest Parking Lot, they’re friggin’ nuts, much as they’re dear friends. One drove a Porsche, which he told me looks like it’s going fast even when it’s standing still. This is good, since it mostly stood still. I doubt he ever got it out of second gear.
Cars will never be banned from Manhattan, despite the havoc they wreak on their best day. It’s unAmerican. Even if a Maserati today is modeled after a 1980s Ford Taurus, it’s our god-given right to get behind the wheel and drive. And that means that terrorists, taxi drivers and soccer moms get to kill, and they will kill more people with cars than guns. Drive safely!
- Classic car insurance is incredibly inexpensive because, unlike other drivers, we almost never get into accidents. It’s not that we value other people’s lives any more than anyone else, but that we do everything possible to keep their blood and guts from getting our cars dirty.