Remembering road victims

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All continents, including Europe, face the challenge of how to stop the all too many road deaths and injuries.” –Brigitte Chaudhry, president of the European Federation of Road Traffic Victims (FEVR)

It’s an epidemic, killing 3,500 people around the globe every day. Yet we should be able to control – if not stop – this epidemic for it’s totally man-made. I’m talking, of course, about highway crashes – a problem not just for the U.S. but for the world as a whole. That’s why the United Nations just declared November 16 – the third Sunday in November – as the “World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.”

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Sure, it sounds hokey – and sure, it won’t do a damn bit to stop highway crashes from occurring. Yet I think we really can’t set out to find ways to reduce highway crashes unless we admit to ourselves that this is a serious problem worthy of our attention and resources.

Highway crashes kill 1.3 million worldwide every year – that’s more than the annual deaths caused by malaria. In the U.S. last year, 41,059 people died in highway wrecks last year, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT) – that’s about 115 people a DAY – with an additional 2.49 million being injured. And despite advances in vehicle safety systems and higher rates of seat belt use (83% this year by U.S. car drivers), highway fatalities are poised to increase according to the European Federation of Road Traffic Victims (FEVR).

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“Between 2005 and 2030, road deaths are predicted to rise by over 60% worldwide but with low income countries suffering much worse, with a 120% increase,” said Brigitte Chaudhry, FEVR’s president. “The World Day of Remembrance offers an ideal opportunity for drawing attention to the urgency of the task and finding solutions, which must include a better post crash response.”

This “road victim remembrance” isn’t new – a victim’s organization called RoadPeace held the first such observance back in 1993. Now the day is getting much wider observance in many countries including: Belgium, Croatia, France, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxemburg, Mexico, The Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Uganda, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

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An though I’ve used the word “epidemic” to describe what’s occurring on our roads, I think it’s an appropriate term. Don’t think this is a widespread, ongoing global problem that touches every level of scoiety? Consider this: President-elect Barack Obama’s father died in a car accident in Kenya, with former President Bill Clinton losing his dad – William Jefferson Blythe III – after Blythe’s front tire blew out propelling the vehicle into a ditch, where he drowned. Joe Biden, the incoming Vice President, lost his first wife and a daughter in a highway crash back when he first got elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972.

John McCain's first wife, Carol, was horribly disabled in a crash that occurred while he was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. She spent three years in a wheelchair after skidding on ice on Christmas Eve and projected through the windshield – that included a six-month hospital stay and 26 operations left her five inches shorter.

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“The World Day of Remembrance should lead to a greater recognition of the needs of road crash victims,” said Cynthia Barlow, the chairwoman of RoadPeace, who lost her owndaughter in a crash while bicycling. “A road crash bereavement will be a life sentence for those suffering such a loss. So we will use the World Day of Remembrance to campaign for a better post-crash response to bereaved families and people suffering serious injury, and ensure that appropriate lessons are learned so that future crashes can be prevented.”

The first step to solving a problem is admitting you’ve got one. Well, we’ve got one where highway deaths and injuries are concerned. Now we’ve got to start tackling ways to bring those numbers down.

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