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Saturday, March 13, 2004

The carnage continues
From Nicholas Kristof:
Here's a pop quiz. Rank the following in order of the number of American lives they claim in a typical year: food, guns, terrorists, flu and cars.

Ready? The most deadly are automobiles, which kill 117 Americans a day, or nearly 43,000 a year. Then comes flu, which (along with pneumonia, its associated disease) kills 36,000 people. Third is guns: 26,000 deaths. Fourth, food-borne illness: 5,000. And finally, terrorism, which in a typical year claims virtually no U.S. lives with horrific exceptions like 2001. But antiterrorism efforts get most of the attention and the resources.

That's right. More people killed in a typical month of car accidents than in pretty much the whole history of U.S. terrorist attacks, including 9/11 and Oklahoma City. And by keeping gasoline prices artificially low and the highways crowded, the various battles being fought in the name of the "war on terror" would probably still be causing more Americans to die even if they were legitimately going after terrorists. (Did that make any sense?)

Full disclosure: I work for a transportation research institute, where we do contract studies for GM, Chrysler and others on new automotive safety devices. And while some of these devices will help save lives, eventually, far greater savings will be achieved when the total miles driven drops dramatically. And 100 years from now the total miles driven will be far below what it is today, because most of the oil will be gone. The real question is how horrible and bloody the century will be, and what will be the condition of the planet. By conserving now we can reduce the bloodshed both on the highways and on the battlefields, and hopefully give the planet enough breathing space to recover from the threat of global warming.