09 August 2005

Reducing Traffic Deaths

Not all technological advances are high tech. Simple, low tech, proven methods can save hundreds of lives that would otherwise be lost to traffic deaths each year.

Helmet laws for motorcycle riders save lives. In Florida, the repeal of a mandatory helmet law for motorcycle riders sent motorcycle accident deaths up 81% and doubled hospital costs related to motorcycle injuries. In Kentucky, the deaths increased by 50%. In Louisiana, the deaths increased 100%. The simple fact is that motorcycle riders systemically make poor risk assessments for themselves without helmet laws. Who pays? We all do, because government invariable ends up footing a large share of the medical bills that result. What does it cost to have helmet laws? Nothing. The police are already out there enforcing traffic laws and traffic fines pay for processing cases where there are violations. Moreover, almost all motorcycle riders own helmets, even if they often choose not to wear them.

Another proven method of reducing traffic deaths is the use of modern roundabouts. The empirical evidence shows that: "Roundabouts are safer than both traffic circles and traditional intersections—having 40% fewer vehicle collisions, 80% fewer injuries and 90% fewer serious injuries and deaths." They have been used since 1963 in England, and since 1990 in the United States, where about 800 have since been built. They are cheaper than the stoplights they typically replace, and work basically by providing fewer opportunities for people to get into deadly head on and T-bone collisions.

These two measures, together, have the proven potential to save several times as many lives as we lose to the combined war in Iraq, war in Afghanistan and deaths to terrorism in the United States each year, and each one actually reduces net government expenditures, rather than tightening budgets. The deaths we eliminate aren't as shocking, but they are just as real and we should act now, so that more people don't die unnecessarily.

Colorado is on the cutting edge of adopting roundabouts. Vail, Colorado was the first place in the country to use one at a highway exit (I've used it and it works fine). But, it is also one of those states that doesn't require motorcycle riders to wear helments. We're idiots for doing so and should change that law.

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