Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ezra Klein Should Know Our Roads Are Killing People

Ezra Klein has a commendable piece on facts about guns and mass murders, but I'm shocked that he doesn't realize that we also have an epidemic of death in this country from poor road conditions. Here's Ezra:

If roads were collapsing all across the United States, killing dozens of drivers, we would surely see that as a moment to talk about what we could do to keep roads from collapsing. If terrorists were detonating bombs in port after port, you can be sure Congress would be working to upgrade the nation’s security measures. If a plague was ripping through communities, public-health officials would be working feverishly to contain it.  
Only with gun violence do we respond to repeated tragedies by saying that mourning is acceptable but discussing how to prevent more tragedies is not. “Too soon,” howl supporters of loose gun laws. But as others have observed, talking about how to stop mass shootings in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings isn’t “too soon.” It’s much too late.

Actually, the American Society of Civil Engineers says roadway conditions are a significant factor in 1/3 of all traffic fatalities.

Americans spend 4.2 billion hours a year stuck in traffic at a cost of $78.2 billion a year--$710 per motorist. Roadway conditions are a significant factor in about one-third of traffic fatalities. Poor road conditions cost U.S. motorists $67 billion a year in repairs and operating costs--$333 per motorist; 33% of America's major roads are in poor or mediocre condition and 36% of the nation's major urban highways are congested. The current spending level of $70.3 billion for highway capital improvements is well below the estimated $186 billion needed annually to substantially improve the nation's highways.

US traffic fatalities average over 30,000 per year, so we have over 10,000 deaths due to road conditions, and many billions of dollars wasted, every year. Seems like we learned to ignore our deadly infrastructure and our epidemic of gun violence. Maybe Americans are ignoring all kinds of things that are literally killing people? Pollution, Climate Change, Budget Cuts, Inadequate Health Care, Wars...

If terrorists were killing 10,000 Americans every year, I wonder how much we'd spend on war and security? The ASCE says we need to spend $2.2 trillion over the next five years to fix our crumbling infrastructure and make ourselves safer, more productive, and more competitive. So, a little over $400 billion a year (which we can borrow at negative interest and buy cheap materials with) seems like a real bargain.

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