A headline on the meteorologist’s column in a weekly paper distributed in Greater Warrenton-Fauquier caught our eye: “Flash floods are the nation’s leading killer.”

Michael Eckert says that flash floods kill more people on an annual basis than slow floods, hurricanes, tornados and all other “disasters” we see on the evening news. That would also include the indirect weather related disasters like forest fires, etc. See “Fire and Flood” 3 November 2003 and “Down Memory Lane with Katrina,” 5 September 2005″ at

What is even more startling is how most people die in flash floods. They drive their cars into flooded roadways going from where they are to where the need or want to be.

In “Dying Young in Traffic,” 1 November 2004 at we profiled the fact that human settlement patterns have put large numbers of citizens into cars who have demonstrated that they are too young to drive safely. Everything we have seen since 2004 suggests the problem is getting worse.

Data suggests that the vast majority of the pedestrians who die in the act of walking do so because they are hit by an automobile. The last person killed by a bicycle, stroller or a Segway was … (research in ongoing on this question, we are sure it is possible, but you get the idea…).

Then there is Bill Lucy’s data on death at the hands of a stranger in the Countryside. It is automobiles that makes one living in the Countryside more likely to die at the hand of a stranger that those living in the Urbanside.

The other day we noted that in the United States 20 times as many citizens are killed in auto accidents every year as the total of US and British military and military contractors who have been killed in the Iraq War since the invasion.

In the United States we kill more of our own citizens each year than the total number of Iraq citizens that have been killed since the current war started. Those auto accidents totals do not include flash floods, pedestrians and many other indirect results of using and abusing automobiles.

Is it not ironic that in order to achieve a sustainable trajectory for civilization citizens will need to evolve settlement patterns where most of these “accidents” would not happen?

In spite of this fact, citizens and their governance practitioners embrace automobile advertising, video games and movies that glorify dangerous and illegal driving.

Legislators give mainly lip service to ways to reduce auto related deaths. They even prevent rational approaches to traffic safety like red light cameras. And none of what they do relates to the core cause of automobile deaths – dysfunctional human settlement patterns.

There are some who suggest that this is just post-industrial Darwinism. We know enough model citizens killed by the irrational acts of others to know auto deaths are not helping to evolve a higher order of human.

There is no question we need to do something about reversing current population trends regionally, nationally and globally in order to achieve a sustainable human burden on the planet.

What citizens do, however, needs to be something other than subsidizing settlement patterns that causes tens of thousands to kill themselves every year.


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7 responses to “DEATH AND CARS”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar

    OK. so Iraq is what, the size of Texas? How about a comparison that has some meaning, like number of deaths per VMT in Iraq vs Texas. I’m still not sure what the meaning would be, but you get the idea.

    Winston and Shirley report accident costs of 15.5 cents per vehicle mile for autos 12.4 centsper bus passenger mile and 8.5 cents per rail passenger mile. (1990 figures). Since the subsidy for trains is more than twice what it is for autos, which mode subsidizes more accident costs, and which mode charges more for the accident costs it does subsidize?

    Auto drivers pay their own insurance costs. What do VRE riders pay?

    I find it hard to believe that flash floods are the nations leading killer. Maybe he means the leading killer among “natural” causes.

    How many pedestrians are killed by walking in places they don’t belong, like crossin in the middle of the block? If you manage to get yourself killed, do you care if it was by a stranger or not?

    Considering that the floods apparently need considerable help in achieving this status, maybe it is more accurate to say that the leading cause of accidents is human error.

    I think this is the first time I’ve noticed that Ed has actually come out in favor of reducing population growth.

    I agree with Ed that auto commercials, video games, and movies are irresposnible with respect to how driving is portrayed. At the same time I’d like to think that most people know the difference between reality and fantasy. If we relied on horses, no doubt we would have ads and movies showing iressponsible uses of them, too.

    At least he is not blaming autos or stupidity for the deaths: it is dysfunctional human settlement patterns that are to blame.

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Well, here is a possibly relevant datapoint:

    Headline: “Highway fatalities are up about 14% in state this year”

    Exerpts: “State police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said last week that no one has a ready explanation for the double-digit surge, adding that many of this month’s crashes were single-vehicle wrecks in which a driver ran off a road and hit an object such as a tree or utility pole.”

    “Geller said urban sprawl may also be adding to the death toll by putting too many motorists on poorly designed roads not meant for heavy traffic.”

    In the Fredericksburg Area – we’ve seen a drammatic uptick in teen auto deaths – virtually all of them single vehicle accidents on winding rural roads.

    And of course… pleading requests from our new residents that “something must be done” about all these rural roads that are clearly unsafe compared to the NoVa roads where they used to live before moving here.


    oh… and by the way… folks also die when our clearly substandard 911 rescue ambulances struggle over winding rural roads only to be gridlocked once they hit the overcrowded primary roads enroute to the only emergency health care facility in the area.

    The folks who have lived here all along.. who grew up learning to drive on rural roads.. and clearly understood that if they had an accident that they would not be instantly transported to medical nirvana… are in awe…. 🙂

    I know.. I’m such a bad person for uttering these thoughts…

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Right, and the MSM reports it as “The vehicle went out of control and strucka utility pole.”

    Doubtless, some of the upsurge is due to the number of distractions availab le in the vehicle, Tapes, disks, food, cell phones. I wonder if some of those accidents on rural winding roads are a (partly) result of the fantasies used for auto ads.

    When I was a new driver, my father removed the radio from the car and impressed on me that when I was behind the wheel I had only one job: look out the window and whatever is out there, stay away from it.

    Bad as the current situation is is, I’ve never heard anyone suggest we use mass transit for 911 service.

    My home in Alexandria was just East of the Beltway. In summer you could watch the afternoon storm clouds gather. When you heard the first sirens from the rescue squad you could set your watch: ten minutes later the rains would arrive at the house.

    Even 20 years ago, I watched ambulances struggling in the traffic on the way to NOVA hospital and thought, boy I hope that guy isn’t in a hurry.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Gawd.. I thought they had figured that out a long time ago.

    NoVa folks go to hospitals in helicopters.. right?

    Don’t tell me this is an urban myth – you’ll destroy all of my ideas of why NoVa society superior to us back country pagans. ;-]

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Actually, I think it is probably those exurbanites that get flown to the hospital. In town it is probably still faster to drive because there are ambulances in many locations: you pretty much only have to make a one way trip. Otherwise, you have to wait for the helicopter to arrive, and you have to clear a place on the road big enough for it to land: no small problem in town. It takes a surprising amount of space to land a helicopter safely. That hover and vertical descent stuff is not the usual or preferred approach. Usually you want to stay outside the speed/altitude curve.

    This may be a situation where exurbanites really do get major league help from the city when they need it.

  6. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Ed, I would add one more data point on the “killer suburban roads” theme. I linked to an article a few months back on the Road to Ruin blog, noting that Hispanics are dying disproportionately in pedestrian accidents. The problem: Many Hispanics are settling in the suburbs close to the demand for menial jobs. But most can’t afford a car, so they have no choice but to negotiate the pedestrian-hostile terrain on foot. Living in the suburbs without a car — it can kill you.

  7. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Around here there used to be a guy who was probably illegal, working on a neighboring farm. He used a moped to go everywhere becuase it didn’t need to be licensed.

    Around here, there are also hordes and swarms of motorcyclists and bicyclists who come here specifically to ride on the rustic country roads.

    It scares me to death.

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