The Heart of the Matter

I’m not a happy camper tonight mostly because I read the story of a bicyclist in Indiana, a relatively young woman with everything to live for whose life was taken from her by a motorist in a box truck today.  It breaks my heart and makes me profoundly sad.

It also makes me angry.  Whenever this sort of thing happens I always try to see both sides but to be perfectly honest and blunt, I’m tired of trying to see the other side.  The other side is not worth seeing.  All I know about this particular crash is that the driver drifted off the road and into the cyclist.  That’s from the Indiana State Police.  So, as is usually the case, it appears that either driver inattentiveness, substance abuse or sheer maliciousness was a root cause.  If you’re a cyclist, you know what I’m talking about.


Ghost bike, Monon Trail, Indianapolis

For a developed first world nation, we Americans sure are willing to put up with an awful lot of road carnage.  Roughly 30,000 of us are going to die in traffic crashes this year.  Of those, over 5,000 will be bicyclists and pedestrians.  According to the World Health Organization, we’re ranked 60th in the world when it comes to traffic mortality.  You’re actually safer on the roads of Panama, Croatia, Serbia and Cuba than you are in the USA.   Think about that as you strap the youngsters into their car seats.

With the exception of two tiny countries that are statistical anomalies, Sweden has the safest roads in the world.  You’re four times as likely to die on American roads as on Swedish roads.   This makes perfect sense to me because I know that the Swedes are serious about having safe roads and we’re not.

Let me give you an example.   Vision Zero is a Swedish initiative that deals with designing roads and other transportation infrastructure in ways that put human life first.   It has nothing at all to do with behavior modification or education…just road design.   Nobody in the US has come up with anything like Vision Zero so it’s good that the Swedes are magnanimous and willing to share.

The Swedes are also serious about educating all road users, and this starts with the licensing process for drivers.  It’s hard to get a driver’s license in Sweden.  You don’t just waltz into the DMV with your debit card.  That’s not how it works.  I remember going out to a restaurant in Malmö with my corporate host when I worked for TetraPak AB.  He was a drinker, but he wouldn’t have even a single beer because he had to drive home and did not want to put his license at risk after working so hard to get it.  I’ve never forgotten that.

Netherlands and Denmark are also in the top ten when it comes to road safety.  As most of you know these are generally acknowledged as the two best countries in the world for bicyclists.  This suggests to me that there is a correlation between the number of bicycles on the road and overall road safety.  That, in turn, suggests that the best way we can work to make our roads safer is to get more people to choose bicycles.

Back to where this started.  Mobility is a basic human right.  Somewhere along the way, we in the US have lost sight of the fact that we should not have to put our lives at risk to get from where we are to where we’re going.  People in other countries don’t.  We shouldn’t either.



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