Friday, October 2, 2009

A Remarkable Statistic -- In 16 States More People Die from Drug-Related Deaths than from Automobile Accidents!

A drawing taken from a photograph by Robert Frank, published in his book The Americans. Death on Route 66.

The above data reflects accidents that took place between 2004 and 2008.

The drug scene and wasted lives -- see below --

There was a stunning (to me, anyway!) article in ther October 1, 209 Dayton Daily News. Authored by AP journalist Mike Stobble, it stated that in 2006 automobile accidents took 45,000 lives, while drug overdoses and long term organ damage accounted for some 39,000 deaths. Remarkable too, was that in 19 states, there were more drug-induced deaths than from auto accidents. These states were:

1. Massachusetts

2. New Hampshire

3. Rhode Island

4. Connecticut

5. New York

6. New Jersey

7. Maryland

8. Pennsylvania

9. Ohio

10. Michigan

11. Illinois

12. Colorado

13. Utah

14. Nevada

15. Oregon

16. Washington

The drugs responsible include cocaine, methadone, fentanyl, Vicodin, and Oxycontin.

Automobile accidents per capita have been generally on the decrease for a long time now, even during the 1950s. A major emphasis on auto safety took place after the mid-1960s, and consequently cars are now designed with many safety features, from crumple zones to airbags and seat belts. yet we still make honest mistakes, and some of us drive recklessly or acohol impaired. And there is also the issue of cell phone use, and the fact that the NHTSA may have withheld information that was adverse to the cell phone industry.
From my book, The Automobile and American Life:
The Corvair was at the center of a consumer firestorm on auto safety that peaked by the end of the 1960s. In absolute numbers, traffic fatalities had risen from 34,763 in 1950 to 39,628 in 1956 to 53,041 in 1966 and 56,278 by 1972. During those years, every Christmas and New Years resulted in the death of approximately 1,000 Americans. The rise of the interstate highway system beginning in 1956 and the marked increase in younger drivers contributed to the alarming trend. Design also played its part; along with horsepower gains, cars of the mid‑1960s possessed poor handling characteristics and abysmal braking capabilities.
The seminal legislative action that set in motion strict automobile safety regulations was the 1966 Vehicle National Traffic and Motor Safety Act. Beginning in 1968, this Act mandated that seatbelts, padded visors and dashboards, safety doors and hinges, impact absorbing steering columns, dual braking systems, and standard bumper height be installed in all new autos sold in the U.S. Critics, however, argued that these measures would do little to save lives and prevent injuries. History has proved them to be somewhat correct. As economist Sam Peltzman demonstrated in the mid-1970s, automobile safety devices resulted in “off-setting behavior” on the part of a number of motorists who engaged in more risky behavior as a result of the introduction of features that were designed to increase their chances of surviving a crash. And while seatbelts, soft interiors, and improved glass did reduced driver fatalities, risky behavior increased the chance that a bicyclist or pedestrian would be killed or injured.
With regard to the safety issues that followed, the most significant problems centered on drivers and passengers actually using their seat belts and the development and introduction of the air bag. In the former case, the federal government initially tried to force compliance with the mandate to install seat belt interlocks on all cars beginning in 1974, but due to public outcry, this measure would be repealed in 1976. However, it was federal pressure on the states to enforce the use of seat belts post-1990 that has led to tough seat belt laws in which local traffic officers can ticket offenders. With the automobile becoming increasingly safe, the current issue with SUVs – high bumper height and reduced visibilities – remains to be solved. Additionally, with each decade from the 1930s forward, more emphasis was placed on drinking and drunk driving, as operator error superseded vehicle design limitations as causes of accidents. A key advance was that of the widespread use of the breathalyzer, a device that was pioneered first in Britain and only later used in traffic enforcement in the U.S.
We have also had a long standing war on drugs, although prescription drug deaths have been in the background until recently. A big issue is simply that of what is our society all about and where is it going after we think through these kind of statistical shifts. Why are so many people trying to deal with the pain of life in this way, and thereby killing themselves? Is this an indicator of a civilization in decline, almost in a free fall? If Edward Gibbon were alive today and writing a sequel about America, what would he say about this deadly epidemic?

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