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A Different Remembrance Day

November 15, 2013
Remembrance Day

Photo courtesy of Thurston Hanson

The CDC, WHO, and the UN Road Safety Collaboration encourage governments and nongovernmental organizations worldwide to commemorate November 17, 2013, as the World Day of Remembrance of Road Traffic Victims. The aim is to draw the public’s attention to motor vehicle crashes, their consequences and costs, and prevention measures. Automobiles, in their capacity to kill and injure, their resource depletion and emissions, their dominion over our landscapes, and their exclusion of healthier forms of transportation are surely among the most dangerous things ever produced by the human imagination.

Road crashes kill nearly 3,500 people each day and injure or disable 50 million each year around the world. Road traffic crashes are the leading cause of death among people aged 10–24 years worldwide and the leading cause of death among those in the first three decades of life in the U.S.

On November 14, just in time for the Day of Remembrance of Road Traffic Victims, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its Fatality Analysis Reporting System data. In 2012, 33,561 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S., and another 2.36 million (estimated) were injured. These figures represent 3.3% more deaths than in 2011—the first increase in fatalities since 2005—and 6.5% more injuries, the first statistically significant increase since 1995.

For decades males have consistently comprised about 70% of motor vehicle fatalities. And in 2012 there were 10 times (1,858 versus 178) as many unhelmeted motorcyclist fatal­ities in states without universal helmet laws. No surprises in either case.

Of victims not in motor vehicles, fatalities among pedestrians increased for the third consecutive year, up 6.4% over 2011, while pedal cyclist fatalities increased by 6.5%. Between 2003 and 2012, the proportion of non-occupant fatalities has grown from 13% to 17%, with data showing that the large majority of pedestrian deaths occur in urban areas, at non-intersections, at night, and many involve alcohol.

Coincidentally, the NHTSA just released a report, 2012 National Survey of Bicyclist and Pedestrian Attitudes and Behavior. The survey is a status report on attitudes, knowledge, and behavior related to outdoor walking and bicycling. It updates national telephone survey data collected by NHTSA in 2002, and addressed safety and mobility issues, obtained trip information, and explored perceptions and use of public facilities such as sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and bicycle paths. It was administered to a probability-based sample of randomly selected people 16 and older.

When asked whether they felt threatened for their personal safety while riding a bicycle on their most recent travel day, 12% of respondents said that they felt threatened at some point on their ride. In terms of how their community was designed for bike riding safety, 27% of cyclists reported they were dissatisfied.

Similarly, when pedestrians were asked whether they felt threatened for their personal safety during the most recent day they had walked outside, 8% reported that they had. And 18% of respondents were somewhat or very dissatisfied with the design of their community for walking purposes.

In the face of such carnage and anxiety, information is made available. The NHTSA offers the 388-page report, Countermeasures That Work: A Highway Safety Countermeasures Guide for State Highway Safety Offices, 7th edition. The CDC has its Guide to Community Preventive Services, a free website resource to help you choose programs and policies to improve health and prevent disease in your community. Motor vehicle injury prevention is one of the 22 health topics on the site.

There is also the Day of Remembrance. It serves an important purpose because:

  • it draws attention to the devastation caused and calls for government action
  • it creates a link between road victims throughout the world
  • lack of information about this catastrophe provokes social indifference
  • the number of people killed and injured on the road represents the largest human-made disaster
  • modern societies tolerate enormous numbers of victims of wholly preventable technical risks, and
  • we remember lost lives and evoke the names of real people, who deserved to be alive today, to have fulfilled their dreams.

British poet Heathcote Williams gets the final word.

Seventeen million dead,
And counting.
More than twice the number in the death-camps,
Eighteen times the count in Korea.
Seventeen Vietnams.
A hundred and thirty times the kill at Hiroshima,
Eight thousand five hundred Ulsters…
The Hundred Years war in a week.
The crusades in under thirty seconds.
A humdrum holocaust…the third world war nobody bothered to declare.

— Michael Lytton, AJPM Blog Editor

Further Reading in AJPM:

Vladutiu CJ, Marshall SW, Poole C, Casteel C, Menard MK, Weiss HB. Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes Following Motor Vehicle Crashes Am J Prev Med 2013;45(5):629–36.

Schlotthauer AE, Guse CE, Brixey S, Corden TE, Hargarten SW, Layde PM. Motor Vehicle Crashes Associated with Alcohol: Child Passenger Injury and Restraint Use, Am J Prev Med 2011;40(3):320–3.

Elder RW, Voas R, Beirness D, et al. Effectiveness of Ignition Interlocks for Preventing Alcohol-Impaired Driving and Alcohol-Related Crashes: A Community Guide Systematic Review, Am J Prev Med 2011;40(3):362–76.

Task Force on Community Preventive Services. Recommendations on the Effectiveness of Ignition Interlocks for Preventing Alcohol-Impaired Driving and Alcohol-Related Crashes, Am J Prev Med 2011;40(3): 377.

Krahl PL, Jankosky CL, Thomas RJ, Hooper TI, Systematic Review of Military Motor Vehicle Crash–Related Injuries, Am J Prev Med 2010;38(1 Suppl):S189-96.

Hall AJ, Bixler D, Helmkamp JC, Kraner JC, Kaplan JA. Fatal All-Terrain Vehicle Crashes: Injury Types and Alcohol Use, Am J Prev Med 2009;36(4):311–6.

Richter ED, Friedman LS, Berman T, Rivkind A. Death and Injury from Motor Vehicle Crashes: A Tale of Two Countries. Am J Prev Med 2005;29(5):440–9.

Elder RW, Shults RA, Sleet DA, et al. Effectiveness of Mass Media Campaigns for Reducing Drinking and Driving and Alcohol-Involved Crashes: A Systematic Review, Am J Prev Med 2004;27(1):57–65.


Rivara FP, MacKenzie EJ. Systematic Reviews of Strategies to Prevent Motor Vehicle Injuries. Am J Prev Med 1999;16(1 Suppl):S1–89.

Williams AF, Ctalano RF, Mayhew DR, Millstein SG, Shultz RA, Williams AF (editors). Teen Driving and Adolescent Health: New Strategies for Prevention. Am J Prev Med 2008;35(3 Suppl):S253–346.

Zaza S, Thompson RS (editors). Reducing Injuries to Motor Vehicle Occupants: Systematic Reviews of Evidence, Recommendations from the Task Force on Community Preventive Services, and Expert Commentary. Am J Prev Med 2001;21(4 Suppl):1–90.

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