Losses resulting from vehicle crashes exceed those that are linked to crime by as much as two to three times every year in Texas, but you might not know that by looking at the news headlines from day to day. In fact, not only does the volume of online exposure fail to match up proportionally to the magnitude of both issues – it doesn’t even come close.
During 2009, the number of murders reported in Texas was 1,327, less than half the crash fatality total of 3,089. In the same year, there were 116,002 serious crimes, as compared to 235,280 serious injuries resulting from car crashes. Economic costs associated with crash deaths totaled $13.2 billion, more than double the $5.7 billion cost of murder.
Even with such staggering measures, crash losses are vastly overshadowed by the attention devoted to criminal activity. For example, an internet search for “car crashes in the news” produces 5.4 million results, but a search for “crime in the news” yields a whopping 458 million results. A more specific search for Texas produces 1.8 million results for crashes, and 79 million for crime.
So what does this mean?
“People have become complacent, tolerating traffic crashes as something inevitable – the price we pay for living in a mobile society,” says Dr. Quinn Brackett, a Senior Research Scientist in TTI’s Center for Transportation Safety. “If traffic crashes are accepted as routine, then they are usually not deemed newsworthy, not unless they involve other unusual circumstances, such as a high body count or if one or more of the victims is well known.”
In addition, many people believe that crimes are acts of volition, whereas crashes are most often thought of as unavoidable accidents. Quite the contrary, Brackett says. Even though a driver may not consciously seek to do harm, behaviors such as speeding, drinking and texting while driving are all volitional acts that can result in death or injury.
Crash deaths and injuries remain at unacceptable levels, but recent trends offer a glimmer of good news. Losses resulting from both crime and motor vehicle crashes in Texas have declined in recent years, and the drop for crash losses has been noticeably steeper.
The number of murders dropped five percent from 2005 to 2009, while the number of traffic deaths fell 13 percent. Serious crimes were down by three percent during the same period, while serious crash injuries fell by almost 20 percent.
Experience suggests that further reductions in both categories could be realized if more cities established traffic divisions within their local police departments, increasing the potential for criminal apprehension in the course of traffic stops. It was a traffic stop, after all, which led to the apprehension of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Brackett notes that the disproportionate amount of attention devoted to traffic safety issues in the news further underscores a need to change our driving culture to one that values civility over convenience.
“Such a profound culture shift will take time, but it is certainly achievable,” he says. “Part of that will involve moving away from the anonymous driver to a driver that is aware that operating a vehicle on the roadway is a socially connective activity – that taking risks when driving increases the risk for everyone in the traffic stream.”