Short Take: Killer Cars

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.

15 thoughts on “Short Take: Killer Cars

  1. Marc

    Inconvenient to the author’s agenda (and ignoring that she is citing two data sets that use two different crash fatality statistic calculation methods, one from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and one from the activist National Safety Council, as if they are interchangeable) is that the vast majority of nonoccupant auto fatalities (pedestrians and cyclists) occur outside of the dense urban cores from where she would ban all private vehicle traffic. And that nonoccupants who die in auto crashes are far more likely to be drunk than the drivers who hit them–but it’s always the driver’s fault when a drunk bicyclist with no headlamp swerves into oncoming traffic at 2am. And no mention that slowing vehicle traffic even more in places like Manhattan will kill far more people in cardiac arrest waiting for ambulances than pedestrian lives saved by lower average speeds. Trade-offs are hard for those with an agenda.

    As to your friends who choose to sit in the World’s Biggest Parking Lot, augmented reality technology will soon let them pretend they are moving when they are not, even more so than the sleek look of a Porsche.

    1. SHG Post author

      All true, but at least someone is being intellectually honest about the “weapon” when it doesn’t involve guns. Give credit where it’s due.

      1. norahc

        Outside of this blawg and a few others, intellectual honesty is an endangered species. It is refreshing to see it out in the wild.

  2. B. McLeod

    I see an accident scene nearly every day. Far too many people don’t know the right of way rules and far too many make assumptions that nothing is coming in a lane they can’t see. Cellphones and I-pads are also a giant factor. People have just become desensitized to the risks inherent in moving thousands of pounds of metal around at speeds in excess of 20 m.p.h.

    1. SHG Post author

      Cars don’t kill. Selfish blithering idiots behind the wheel of a car kill. But we can’t outlaw selfish blithering idiots.

      1. B. McLeod

        I guess not. But there used to be this thing called “Driver Education,” that was a class in high school. Is that still out there?

  3. Elpey P.

    Maybe Betteridge’s Law of Headlines needs to be updated to also address headlines that end with “Seriously.” Unless you’re a comedian in the middle of changing gears, appending that to declarations in everyday life probably has the opposite effect.
    “That looks great on you. Seriously.”
    “The soup of the day is quite good. Seriously.”
    “I am eminently qualified for this position. Seriously.”

  4. KP

    But… terrorists use trucks! We should ban those in big cities too!! Bicycles and buses, all that’s allowed! The cities will soon be smaller as everyone starves to death with no deliveries being made.

    Like any politician, I feel autonomous cars will be a good thing… for everyone else but not for me!

Comments are closed.