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Guns don’t kill people, drivers kill people

I heard a sad report today on the radio about the victim of a New Year’s Day shooting – one of the first people this year killed by a firearm. Perhaps it’s my own heightened awareness, but I have noticed an increase in media reports on shootings and gun violence in the months since Sandy Hook. Public outrage over such senseless and horrific massacres is justified. However, I regularly feel frustrated at our propensity to focus on fantastic, headline grabbing violence rather than a more mundane and more pervasive killer.

This recent talk of gun violence is often accompanied with statistics about homicide rates, gun ownership, etc. so here’s a statistic from the FBI (via The Atlantic): 8,583 people were murdered at the hands of a gunman last year. In fact, there were a total of 12,664 homicides of all types in the US last year.

Compare this with 2010 US DOT figures for road fatalities: 32,885 people died on US roadways. Of these 5,080 were non-motorized users (pedestrians, bicyclists, etc.) and another 6,414 were passengers in vehicles. In other words, even if one eliminates drivers from the fatality rate (drivers do often have at least some control over the situation, after all), far more people are needlessly killed by drivers than by guns.

Without superhuman reflexes, Tenzin Drudak, the 16 year old boy killed by the driver of this minivan, had no chance to get out of the way of the speeding death machine and its driver, who so badly needed to grab that gallon of milk on the floor while barreling along that it was worth taking an innocent life to reach down for a second.

Furthermore (and I don’t think there are really any statistics on this), I would argue that traffic fatalities are more randomly distributed across the entire population than gun violence. In other words, one can likely apply common sense precautions to avoid much of the risk of gun violence: don’t wander the streets late at night, don’t hang around with drug dealers, etc. But as a pedestrian or cyclist, there’s much less that can be done on the part of an individual to mitigate that risk. In fact, roadway design often increases the risk to the most vulnerable of road users.

And none of this discussion involves the many thousands of others who are seriously injured and maimed as a result of traffic violence.

It is encouraging to see how our society has elevated the debate on gun violence in the wake of so many recent horrific crimes. But by any measure, we would be far better served by making investments in safer transportation networks than tackling the complicated mess that are guns in the US. Not only could we save more lives, but everyone benefits from a safer, more equitable transportation system.

5 responses to “Guns don’t kill people, drivers kill people

  1. Pingback: How the U.S. Tax Code Favors Driving Over Other Modes | Streetsblog.net

  2. We’ll never know how criminally negligent many of these drivers are until it becomes mandatory for the police to read the vehicle black box and make that information available on line for journalists, advocates, researchers and plaintiffs to see.

    If the driving happened on a public road or a public sidewalk, there’s no reason for privacy. And if the car careened off a road into a private home (it happens), it’s still public data, at leas until the vehicle left the road – then the data becomes the property of the victims or their heirs.

    • thegetaroundblog

      Not being a lawyer, I’m not really sure what kind of legal threshold there is for determining criminal negligence.

      What interests me more is that many of these deaths were likely at the hands of people who probably shouldn’t be considered criminals (think: my mother). I don’t think society at large tolerates branding someone a criminal for what is perceived to be an “honest mistake.”

      And that’s the rub: we’ve slowly but surely built our society into one where a minor lapse in judgment, involving no malicious intent whatsoever, can result in the death of another person.

  3. Strict liability would be a good start. People should absolutely be held responsible for their actions when operating a 2 ton vehicle. Whatever occurs after that may or may not involve negligence but there is no question it is a consequence of the very conscious decision to drive in the first place.

    Every 15 minutes, another death… Every 12 seconds, another injury. It is mind boggling. Or, every month another 9/11 if you want to put it that way.

  4. “we’ve slowly but surely built our society into one where a minor lapse in judgment, involving no malicious intent whatsoever, can result in the death of another person”

    Exactly. I got hit and knocked out by a garbage truck (dump truck, maybe? Something big and commercial) because the driver, innocently, looked right past me and rolled into traffic from the stop sign, right into my head. No criminal intent, no major negligence, just a split second mistake, but some serious consequences for me, for his company and I’m sure, for him as well.

    We’ve done that by making operating heavy machinery at high speeds a seemingly mundane activity, almost a right of full citizenship. We need to realize that operating heavy machinery at high speeds is inherently dangerous and minimize the activity itself. Most of us shouldn’t be driving most of the time.

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