'Detours, roadblocks, jams: the rough road to US car regulation'


I’m surprised the author didn’t mention the role auto insurers play in enhancing car safety. IIHS/HLDI tests all kinds of stuff now: offset head on crashes, really offset head on crashes, side impacts, roof crush, child seats (LATCH), head restraints, front crash mitigation, and headlights. The insurer’s not only sponsor legislation, they shame the auto manufacturers into enhancing safety. All for you. Well, OK, they do it to spend less while still soaking you and me at the same rate so they can make more money. Still, it does reduce bodily injury. A noble secondary goal.

IIHS has an excellent website, reporting actual data about crash performance, safety features, headlights, etc. For example headlights: many cars have good headlights on some trims and poor headlights on others. It’s easy to decide which models/trims to consider and which to eliminate before ever going to look at cars on line or on a lot.

I’ve come to regard the relationship between cars and society as symbiotic. This article examines the ways society has shaped the car, but what I find more interesting are the ways the car has shaped society, specifically in terms of urban and suburban planning and design.

When you examine how we’ve built our transportation infrastructure, some aspects of it look downright hostile to pedestrians and bicyclists. Sidewalks, bicycle paths, and the rate at which both pedestrians and bicyclists are injured suggest that we’ve prioritized a driver’s ability to move quickly from one place to another over the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists.

It’s pretty messed up to think that someone prioritized a driver’s ability to arrive five minutes sooner over the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists. Considering how the poor, the disabled, and the elderly are less likely to reap the benefits of car culture in an urban environment, this seems grossly unethical.

Yes, for most people, driving is the most dangerous thing they’ll do on a given day, and that’s why many of them get their exercise on treadmills and stationary bicycles rather than walk or bicycle among moving cars. I’d much rather get my exercise outdoors, but in many suburban neighborhoods where there are no sidewalks, just walking your dog around the block is dangerous.

I worry much more for those of us who don’t voluntarily ride around in cages than those who do.

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It’s my responsibility as a driver to recognize the car I drive can also be a 3500# killing machine. I may go over the speed limit on limited access roads, but when I’m in a residential area, I am at or under the speed limit and looking for pedestrians that aren’t as attuned to traffic as I am. The same goes for city driving.

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That’s great that you take personal responsibility. I appreciate that. I wish everyone had that attitude rather than turn into Mr. Wheeler from Motor Mania.

Having said that, urban design and traffic engineering can also improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, to improve their odds.

These aspects of safety are far from mutually exclusive.