Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Traffic death, semantics, and Vision Zero

U.S. traffic deaths as fraction of total population 1900-2010.png

More Vision Zero foolishness from the New York Times:

Roadway fatalities are soaring at a rate not seen in 50 years, resulting from crashes, collisions and other incidents caused by drivers. Just don’t call them accidents anymore. That is the position of a growing number of safety advocates, including grass-roots groups, federal officials and state and local leaders across the country. They are campaigning to change a 100-year-old mentality that they say trivializes the single most common cause of traffic incidents: human error. “When you use the word ‘accident,’ it’s like, ‘God made it happen,’ ” Mark Rosekind, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said at a driver safety conference this month at the Harvard School of Public Health. “In our society,” he added, “language can be everything.”

The first sentence is simply false when you look at the graph above. The Wikipedia entry tracks traffic deaths from 1899 through 2014. As the graph above shows, the trend has been consistently downward, with occasional spikes.

See also this:

New Geography

Language can't be "everything" in this---or any other---society. This language change, like the Vision Zero campaign itself, only gives people the illusion that they're doing something positive.

Calling something an "accident" doesn't at all "trivialize" the notion of "human error." Very few humans purposely cause traffic accidents, and of course the definition of accident includes/requires the idea of intent. That almost all fatal traffic accidents involve "really bad behavior" by motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians doesn't mean those accidents are preventable in any obvious way.

Unless there's a dramatic change in human nature, these semantic games are silly---and, not coincidentally, just another PR front by the Vision Zero ninnies.

Only at the end of the NY Times story do we get the Vision Zero link:

When New York City changed its policy in 2014, it did so partly in response to such grass-roots efforts, including from a group called Families for Safe Streets. The group is led by parents like Amy Cohen, whose son, Sammy, was run over and killed in Brooklyn in 2013. She helped start a campaign called “Crash Not Accident,” and said that the drivers in deadly wrecks should not be given the presumption of innocence just because they have lived to tell their side of the story.

Clicking on the link takes you to a Vision Zero Network site.

Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker made a good point about focusing too much on mechanical failures with the vehicles we drive, which, while important, can be a false lead when considering traffic safety overall:

The public approach to auto safety is preoccupied with what might go wrong mechanically with the vehicles we drive. But the chief factor is not what we drive; it is how we drive (emphasis added).

The anti-car bicycle lobby is a major force behind the Vision Zero bullshit: see thisthis, this, and this.

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