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Latest Traffic Safety YouTube    

AolNews   2010-12-03

Opinion: Here's An Easy Way to Make Traveling Much Safer

Leonard Evans    Special to AOL News

(Dec. 3) -- Airline travelers are subjected to more and more invasive scrutiny, culminating in groin-groping pat-downs. It is unquestionably a triumph that nobody has been killed by airline terrorists since the horrific attacks of September 2001. While grumbling, a good portion of the flying public is willing to suffer the delays and indignities in return for safe travel.

But traveling in the U.S. is not adequately safe. During that same September 2001 in which the terrorists struck, 3,629 travelers lost their lives. Not in airplanes, but on our roads. Since 9/11, more than 370,000 Americans have been killed on our roads. Yes -- you read it correctly -- more than a third of a million.

Such massive numbers of traffic deaths are often casually dismissed with the claim that airline passengers have no control over their fate, whereas drivers on roads are in control of their vehicles. Such a claim ignores stark facts.

Since 9/11, more than 42,000 pedestrians and more than 81,000 passengers have been killed in road crashes. These totals include babies, infants, the elderly, the blind, etc. Passengers in taxis and buses are also killed. And let us not forget legal drivers killed in vehicles struck by others driven illegally. Are these victims responsible for their own deaths?

The number of people killed in traffic who had no control over what happened to them towers over those killed by terrorists. If only we would start to take traffic safety seriously, we could cut the number of traffic deaths in half.

This is not wishful thinking. Many countries have already cut their traffic deaths in half. For example, Sweden recorded just 358 deaths for the entire nation in 2009. That's 73 percent below its all-time high.

To put that in context, there were 22 U.S. states with smaller populations than Sweden that had more deaths than Sweden in 2009; nine of these had more than twice as many deaths. And, if U.S. traffic deaths had declined by 73 percent from our all-time high, 19,000 lives would have been saved in 2009 alone.

Other countries that have cut their deaths by more than half include Canada, Britain, Australia, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Finland.

One reason these countries have achieved enormously larger reductions in traffic deaths than the U.S. is widespread application of technology to automatically monitor traffic-law compliance. Red-light cameras photograph vehicles that run red lights. Radar-speed cameras photograph vehicles driving substantially above the speed limit. The photographs are sent with details of the infraction and the fine to be paid to registered owners of the vehicles, as identified from the license plates.

These monitoring technologies do not delay, inconvenience or embarrass anyone acting legally. No records are kept for vehicles whose drivers are obeying traffic law.

On the other hand, if you are a perfectly legal airline traveler you are delayed hours, compelled to take off your shoes and possibly expose the most intimate items of your luggage to public view. And now you may also have your private parts groped. None of this has been shown to save a single life.

The widespread deployment of automatic cameras to record red-light and speed-limit violations would save thousands of American lives every year. Guaranteed.

Leonard Evans is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He is an internationally recognized traffic safety expert and author of "Traffic Safety."

Other op-eds by Leonard Evans on AOL News
Want Safer Football? Ditch the Helmet
The Lesson of Toyota's Recall
Congress' Deadly Fixation on Toyota
Auto Technology That Kills

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