The biggest cause of death is not war, cancer or domestic violence. Traffic accidents are the biggest killer of Americans between the ages of 5 and 34. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently published a year-by-year chart of auto fatalities per 100,000 people in this country. It is interesting, and I’m almost certain coincidental, that it runs from 1950 (the year I was born), through the present. The highest fatality rate of all begins around 1966 (coincidentally, the year I got my driver’s license) and extends to 1973 (when I graduated from college); this period also saw the publication of Ralph Nader’s best selling indictment of U.S. automakers, “Unsafe at any Speed”. Fatalities dropped when we (briefly) kept it to 55 mph, started wearing seat belts and drove sober. In an effort to protect us from ourselves, so-called “passive” safety improvements have more recently come along. These include airbags, and that annoying chime that persists until you fasten your seatbelt, or buckle in your groceries. One of the most effective passive systems of all was the economic downturn, which drastically reduced driving.
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