“But are these really accidents? I argue that they are not. These events do not just happen as an accident. They are predictable and preventable. These accidents do not need to occur.” -Bruce Moeller, from “Driving Me Crazy: Stories from the road.”
As soon as I started reading Bruce Moeller‘s book, I wanted to throw it away - far away. But you can‘t do that on a jam-packed airliner at 39,000 feet (unless you risk explosive decompression) and, frankly, I needed to read it - painful as I knew it would be.
You see, Bruce‘s book - entitled “Driving Me Crazy: Stories from the road” - opens with his own personal tragedy, the one that eventually drove him to write this book and one that every parent like myself utterly fears. In 1985, he lost his 18-month old daughter to sickness and hospital malpractice in South Korea - alive and joyous as all toddlers are one minute, gone the very next. He relates how it took him over two decades to recuperate from that searing loss, to change his worldview, to start over with a new mindset - one focused on trying to reduce the needless carnage on our highways.
But I just didn‘t want to go there. Not only did the book jump-start all the latent worries about the well-being of my own three girls back home, it also ramped up my fears about where I was going - to Reno, Nevada, where my brother lay in intensive care following a 150-foot vertical fall off a cliff while extreme skiing. What was his prognosis? How extensive the physical and mental damage? Do I have to contemplate signing a “do not resuscitate” order? These were the very last things I wanted to think about.
[Things turned out far better for me. My brother suffered no brain or spinal trauma, and is now poised to be discharged from the hospital - after sustaining 12 broken ribs, two dislocated shoulders and a small facture in one of his neck vertebrae. He also ripped the nerve bundle controlling his right arm out of his spine, so he‘ll most likely lose use of that arm permanently ... but a small price to pay after skirting death by mere inches.]
Yet these are things we must think about. As Bruce detailed in his book, every day you drive a vehicle, or ride in one, you not only take your life in your hands, you put your life in other people‘s hands. With nearly 43,000 highway fatalities each year in the U.S. alone, Bruce contends we are facing an epidemic that must be stopped - something he reiterated to me when I talked to him over the phone not long ago.
(Bruce Moeller believes accidents can be significantly reduced via improving driver skills.)
“Look back at the risks our society just won‘t accept,” he told me. “We don‘t accept airline accidents, which can kill 200 people at one time We don‘t accept terrorist attacks, like September 11th, when over 3,000 lost their lives. Yet we accept the fatalities that result from driving. We need to change that.”
Looking at it another way, those 43,000 fatalities on our highways every year translates to about 3,583 a week, or 117 a day. If a commercial jetliner were crashing every day with all hands killed, we‘d be up in arms. Yet its equivalent occurs every day on our roadways and it elicits nothing more than a collective yawn.
Consider this as well: Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for 15 to 19 year olds at 41.4%, far and away surpassing homicide (13.7%), suicide (11%) and cancer (5.2%), according to statistics gleaned from the Journal of Safety Research.
“Here is where I want to challenge the convention thinking,” Bruce says in his book. “Are these incidents really inevitable? If we can anticipate financial consequences based upon empirical data and project these onto an expected simulation of the future, why can‘t we do the same thing with the behaviors that cause crashes in the first place? Why can‘t we anticipate them, then either reduce or eliminate them?”
Now, point of full disclosure: Bruce is president and CEO of DriveCam Inc., a global driver risk management company that‘s in business to make a profit. Their digital video technology is designed to record risky driving behavior and help fleets across the spectrum (government, private, for-hire) reduce accident exposure.
Yet his book isn‘t about that. It‘s focused on the far larger (and more important) topic of getting people to recognize that losing 43,000 lives a year in the U.S. - along with 127,000 annually in Europe - to vehicle crashes simply should not be acceptable to modern day society, period.
(Preventing this is what Bruce's book is all about.)
“You don‘t understand the amount of suffering a family goes through when you lose someone to a highway fatality, especially a child. I know what that feeling is like; I‘ve been there,” he told me. “Just because vehicle fatalities happen one or two at a time should not obscure the larger picture - crashes kill a lot of people. My feeling is that if we can put a man on the moon, if we can explore space on a regular basis, we can solve this crisis. This is a deadly, serious business.”
But until we, as a society, accept the seriousness of this problem and are willing to take steps to address it, the dying won‘t stop.