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League Responds to Auto Dealers' Analysis of Fatalities
Reasons include reckless driving, aggressive drivers
League Executive Director Andy Clarke wrote a letter in response to an editorial from the American International Automobile Dealers Association published on September 25:
September 25, 2006
Dear Mr. Lusk:
In response to Les Jackson’s editorial on the high pedestrian fatality numbers on our nation’s highways, it’s interesting to note the latest numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that every category of road user operating outside a car or truck, namely motorcyclists, pedestrians and bicyclists, are all seeing significant increases in fatalities. Careless driving is surely to blame for some of the carnage on our roads, but you wouldn’t think so after reading “Pedestrian Safety, A Growing Concern…” on your website, September 25.
Not all pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists follow the rules all the time – any more than motorists do. However, since 2004 the League of American Bicyclists has tripled the number of certified instructors we have in the field teaching safe cycling skills to both adults and children. These instructors teach that following the rules of the road is rule number one. Every interaction we have with our members – almost all of whom are also motorists – and with our 600 affiliated bicycle clubs around the country, stresses the need to share the road and follow the rules of the road. We know our lives depend on it.
Jackson suggests that fatalities would plummet if pedestrians didn’t walk in the road and always used crosswalks, and if bicyclists used special paths and off-pavement areas. This suggests that these things actually exist and offer the one-third of the population who cannot or choose not to drive a decent place to travel. But they don’t. Urban areas routinely lack sidewalks, crosswalks, trails, bike lanes, and other basic provision.
Ironically, in many urban settings bicyclists are safer riding on the road than on sidewalks and sidepaths because every driveway and intersection creates an unexpected car-bike conflict. They also encourage wrong-way riding and are not typically built to be traveled on at anything more than walking pace. Roads generally provide the fastest, most direct route – just as they do for cars.
In countries such as Sweden and Germany – both notable for their successful international car brands – cities enjoy ten times the levels of bicycling of their U.S. counterparts and have far fewer crashes and injuries per mile traveled. Motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians successfully coexist, sharing streets and public space with respect and care for each others rights. Bicyclists and pedestrians are not shoved to the side on second-class “off-pavement areas” for the convenience of motorists.
Vehicles have come a long way with regard to safety features. Seat belts, air bags, anti-lock brakes, crumple zones, anti-rollover suspension systems, are all lifesavers. Similarly, there have been breathtaking advances in emergency medical treatment in recent years. Yet the statistics show we are still killing 34,000 car drivers and passengers every year – even with all these safety advances.
Jackson’s article doesn’t mention speed or driver distraction, despite a wealth of evidence of their terrible impact. A recent NHTSA study reported that driving while using a cell phone is as dangerous as driving drunk. He glosses over drunk driving by blaming the victims – pedestrians who have high blood alcohol levels. He doesn’t mention aggressive driving as being in any way a factor in crashes involving non-motorists.
Jackson’s blinkered paternalism won’t solve our traffic safety problems any more than angry cyclists raging against the car will. In or out of the car, on or off the bike we all benefit from safer, slower, more respectful and attentive driving on today’s busy streets.
Car dealers can have a profound impact on the safety of all road users and we would welcome the chance to partner with you and your members. We have common cause in better designed roads – with shoulders, bike lanes, and sidewalks – and safer speeds. Fewer crashes means less congestion, and diminished chances of being killed by an errant driver. Traffic safety must never be an issue of drivers versus other road users, we must recast it in terms of safe and considerate road users versus unsafe and inconsiderate road users, however they choose to travel.
We welcome an open dialog on cars, bicyclists, motorists, motorcyclists and pedestrians sharing the road more safely and effectively – sadly Jackson’s opening salvo offered few valid solutions. Please give me a call at 202-822-1333 or e-mail email@example.com.
CC Don Beyer, Chairman