NY Times NY/Region Section: “Teenagers and Cars: A Deadly Mix”

[A]s adults, don’t we know enough — and do enough — to save them from themselves? Clearly not, according to national death and injury statistics that have shown virtually no improvement over the last decade. Each year, nearly 6,000 American teenagers die in car accidents involving teenage drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; more than 300,000 are injured. The cost, in property damage and health care expenses, is $14 billion. The economic fallout will come as no surprise to anyone who has had to insure a male driver under 21.

– Gerri Hirshey, writing in the NY Times, December 9, 2007 (link)

Driving is one of the greatest perils of modern American society, it seems. In many suburbs, you have no choice but to drive everywhere.

People often underestimate how dangerous driving is. Streetsblog used a rather interesting way of putting it into perspective (“The ‘Burbs: Extremely Safe or Especially Dangerous?“) for the N.Y. metropolitan area:

A decade ago, Northwest Environment Watch (now the Sightline Institute) published a memorable report showing that violent deaths were less common in Seattle than in the surrounding suburbs. The author of this myth-buster, Alan Durning, took the novel but logical step of combining traffic fatalities with homicides and found fewer violent deaths (per million people) in the central city. It wasn’t that city drivers were saner. Rather, city dwellers spent less time driving than suburbanites, giving them fewer opportunities to kill themselves or other Seattle residents on the roads, which more than offset the city’s higher homicide rate.

A similar calculation for New York City and Long Island, using 2005 data, likewise upends the conventional wisdom. Per million people, Long Island had 51 fewer homicides (16 vs. 67), but 50 more traffic fatalities (89 vs. 39), than New York City. In terms of total violent deaths, the difference between the Big Apple and Long Island – 105 deaths per million people in the City, 104 on the Island – is statistical noise.

New York City is widely believed to be the safest big city in the U.S., and Long Island is probably the safest suburb.

I’d be interested to see the numbers on how many of those fatalities and major accidents are young people in the suburbs—given the high insurance rates for young males, I’d guess a lot.

So, ironically, could it be possible that parents moving their kids to the suburbs weren’t making an optimal choice concerning their safety?

The conclusion to draw from this, perhaps, is that it might not hurt to look into organizing lifestyles into a more town-like environment again, where driving could be minimized.


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