The Shocking Truth About Car Crashes: A Silent Epidemic Unveiled
Car accidents have become a terrifyingly common occurrence, claiming lives and causing injuries on a daily basis. Astonishingly, these acts of road violence have become normalized in our society. We have resigned ourselves to the belief that these tragic incidents are an inevitable price we must pay for the privilege of using our cars.
It is a grim reality that globally, car crashes are the leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of five and 25. In Australia alone, the number of road fatalities for this age group has been alarmingly rising, reaching 293 in 2022, compared to 281 in 2019 and 276 in 2018.
Each of these deaths serves as a stark reminder of the deep-rooted problem ingrained within our car-centric culture. The sheer volume of lives lost and injuries sustained on our roads is a direct result of our unwavering commitment to building a society around cars. Strangely, the magnitude of this harm fails to evoke the same outrage that any other form of violence would elicit.
We argue, in a newly published paper, that unless we acknowledge the consequences of our misguided choices, these heartbreaking tragedies will persist. The situation demands urgent action.
Lives Lost and Lives Forever Affected
Let us remember that behind those seemingly abstract figures lie real people, real lives that have been irrevocably altered. One chilling incident took place in March 2023 when a truck collided with two 16-year-olds who were crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing near their school in inner-city Adelaide. Both teenagers were rushed to the hospital with grave injuries.
Another shocking event occurred three months later in the heart of the Adelaide CBD. A four-wheel-drive vehicle struck a 38-year-old woman and her six-year-old daughter as they were crossing the street near their school. The impact left the woman trapped under the car while the young girl was dragged under and subsequently rescued by another parent.
In yet another heart-wrenching incident in September 2023, a car collided with an eight-year-old boy who was enjoying a game of soccer with his three-year-old brother in a suburban Melbourne laneway. Tragically, the boy remained pinned between two vehicles for nearly 20 agonizing minutes, sustaining life-threatening injuries.
These haunting stories stand as a testament to the fact that car crashes are not isolated accidents but rather symptomatic of larger, systemic issues stemming from flawed planning and transport policies. Regrettably, these policies have actively promoted car-based infrastructure and urban sprawl, while neglecting the development of efficient public transport and safer modes of active transportation, such as walking and cycling.
Children: The Unfortunate Collateral
Children, unfortunately, often bear the brunt of our society’s obsession with accommodating heavy, fast-moving vehicles in our everyday spaces, including around schools. The freedom enjoyed by car drivers comes at the expense of the freedom of everyone else. Moreover, the environment and society as a whole bear the majority of the costs associated with this car culture.
Victim-Blaming: The Unjust Response
The response to the Adelaide inner-city crash in March exemplifies a perplexing form of victim-blaming. Some claimed that pruning a tree to prevent it from obscuring a traffic light and auditing pedestrian crossings would somehow rectify the situation. As a feeble attempt to address the issue, red-and-white-striped wrapping was added to the traffic light poles, accompanied by signs urging pedestrians to “stop, look, and listen” before crossing the street.
These trivial modifications predominantly target the potential victims themselves, evidencing society’s denial of the role played by cars in these incidents. Such measures only serve to reinforce the privileged position held by cars and their drivers. Instead of addressing the root cause of this violence, we find ourselves instructing everyone to be more cautious and alert around cars.
The Normalization Must Cease
By neglecting the underlying causes of these crashes, we prevent ourselves from taking more effective action. There are numerous steps we can take, such as reclaiming space from cars by establishing car-free zones or restricting parking. Additionally, lowering speed limits for cars to align with average walking speeds (6 kilometers per hour) or cycling speeds (15-20 kilometers per hour) would contribute significantly to reducing accidents. Moreover, implementing disincentives such as higher registration and parking fees for larger vehicles that pose a greater risk to pedestrians could discourage their usage.
Another disconcerting element in the normalization of car crashes is the way in which they are brought to the public’s attention. Media coverage swiftly dwindles a few days after the incidents, failing to convey the long-term and far-reaching consequences they have on the lives of the victims and their loved ones.
For instance, when reporting the crash involving the woman and her six-year-old daughter, it was mentioned that the girl was fortunate to escape severe injuries. Similarly, it was highlighted that the younger brother of the boy trapped between two cars emerged with minor harm. However, these reports fail to capture the trauma experienced by a six-year-old who bore witness to her mother’s screams while their bodies were forcibly pushed under a moving two-tonne metal object. They overlook the lasting impact on a three-year-old who witnessed his brother’s body being crushed between two cars.
Furthermore, these reports rarely shed light on the enduring trauma endured by other family members, friends, first responders, and bystanders. The crippling effects of these crashes, therefore, remain largely hidden from the public eye, disguising their systemic nature.
Rethinking Priorities to End the Violence
We must not succumb to the notion that vehicle-related injuries involving children are mere accidents or unavoidable consequences of our modern lifestyle. We retain the power to reclaim the value we assign to cars in our everyday environments. The costs, both social and environmental, have reached unsustainable levels. We have an abundance of safer and more environmentally friendly transportation alternatives, such as active modes of travel and public transport.
It is imperative that we acknowledge the immense threat cars pose to children’s safety and their right to freely navigate public spaces. By failing to address this issue, we directly endanger their long-term health and wellbeing. The rights of car drivers should not supersede the rights of children to feel secure and protected on our streets. The interests of those who oppose measures such as reduced car parking or lower speed limits should never outweigh the wellbeing of our children. The advantages of a pro-car policy can never outweigh the benefits that children bring to public spaces, where they have every right to be imperfect and occasionally distracted.
As a society, we are long overdue for a public conversation that prompts us to reassess our priorities. Only then can we confront the unquestioned dominance of cars and our tendency to unquestioningly accept the violence they inflict upon us.