A valuable report published in the New England Journal of Medicine lists the 10 leading causes of death among American youth. It examines statistics regarding the 20,360 deaths of children and adolescents in the United States in 2016. As a comprehensive study and analysis, the information also includes trends over time and comparisons among countries.
None of these statistics are comfortable to gaze upon. But too many US citizens do not consider or question our means of travel. Too many do not have much belief in safer options (unlike many places that are more diverse in their transport, multimodal, such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Wrocław).
You may have guessed by now: the #1 cause of death among America’s youth is car crashes.
Motor vehicle crashes caused the death of 4,074 children in 2016. That’s more than 80 kids per state. “Motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death for children and adolescents, representing 20% of all deaths; firearm-related injuries were the second leading cause of death, responsible for 15% of deaths.”
As you can see, #2 on the list is guns — no surprise considering we are bombarded weekly with news of random senseless deaths from revolvers to machine guns. Firearms caused the death of 3,143 children in 2016.
Car seats are protection — but there is so much more to the story of transportation safety.
Lately, I’ve been talking with my granddaughter Zoe, who has an avid interest in not only electric cars but also in self-driving cars. She is keenly interested in both at her young age of “6 going on 18.” She’s quite smart and easily understands that electric cars don’t create those awful headaches and nauseating gasoline smells. From her car seat at the age of 6, she clearly understands that she wants to learn to drive in an all-electric car — better for health and safety. But she is also already sure she wants a more autonomous car, a self-driving car. Children know things, sometimes more than adults.
There is so much sorrow in these statistics, and as disturbing as the motor vehicle deaths are, one feels heartbreak at the number of suicides. In my opinion, it is only the experience of abuse and victimization that drives a child to suicide. That’s a discussion for another kind of blog.
As far as safety goes, mass transit is 90% safer. Yes, the metro is safer — if you are so lucky to have one in your area and along your routes of travel. Time and convenience benefits make us feel we need the car, and children of course require much time. Still, this has a lot to do with culture, way of life, psychological inertia, and city planning. Florida cities are planned for cars, so children don’t really have options in a place like this. Florida, unfortunately, doesn’t offer electric buses yet either — so driving one’s child is a better option than them breathing is the awful smells of a diesel-fueled school bus.
This week, I bicycled all over a car-centric town. I found backstreets, quiet streets, and out-of-the-way routes. When I couldn’t be safe enough on the street, I loaded my bicycle on a bus for part of my journey. I felt better, my heart pumping, my brain fluids bouncing. It took me 10–15 more minutes than driving across town in the often stuck, never-ending stream of cars Florida is known for. Electric car or not, electric bicycling is more and more appealing to me each time I return home. I’m feeling more and more positive about car-free transportation.
Yet, I had to consciously work to be seen and be safe. It is not Amsterdam or Copenhagen, not even Portland, Oregon, or Seattle, Washington, all cultures that include healthier city planning and supportive bicycle paths — or even bicycle gardens for training children to be safe. Those bicycling enablers seem like they are never going to sprout in Florida. The inertia continues, and the automobile deaths follow.
Electric cars offer some notable safety benefits over other cars. The three safest cars tested by the NHTSA, according to the detailed scores it doesn’t publicize, are the Tesla Model 3, Tesla Model S, and Tesla Model X. The extra-large crumple zones, the superb safety sensors and software, and the strong quality of Tesla designs go a long way to help create safer transport for their drivers and passengers. Other electric cars benefit from some of those features — to some degree or another — as well. Accident statistics and insurance claims back up the NHTSA safety ratings.
Nonetheless, everything in perspective, driving in a car is not the safest activity for a child. Drive safely out there.
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