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Posts from the "Carnage" Category

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Map: Where Buffalo Drivers Smash Into Buildings (Hint: Everywhere)

Cynthia Van Ness, a librarian and host of BuffaloResearch.com, put together the above map, showing the nearly 150 sites where drivers crashed into buildings in the Buffalo region and made the news since 2006.

The map includes links to the media coverage of the incidents, and Van Ness points out how reporters and editors tend to implicitly forgive the drivers involved in these crashes:

Let others fume about “jaywalking.” This is a map of “jaydriving.” About 150 crash sites marked! Each placemark has a link to a news story. Note how often the car is blamed instead of the driver.

A September 2010 incident where “a van crashed into a senior citizen’s apartment complex” was referred to by WGRZ as a “minor accident.” The article notes that the driver was an “older man,” that “alcohol was not a factor” and that “no one was injured.” No harm, no foul, apparently, since no one had the misfortune of standing in his way!

In all likelihood, the map captures only a fraction of all the vehicular bricks-and-mortar mayhem in the region, since it relies on news coverage, not comprehensive public records.

Van Ness calls Buffalo “the world capital of drivers crashing into buildings,” but this seems to be a common occurrence all over America.

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What Should Doctors Do to Prevent Traffic Deaths?

When cars first became a common presence in American cities, doctors were shocked by the carnage. In 1925, editors of the New England Journal of Medicine called the bloodshed caused by motorists “appalling” and lamented children’s loss of life as “a massacre of the innocent.” The sense of urgency was still detectable a few decades later. In a 1957 report, Harvard researchers called the public health threat posed by automobiles a “mass disease of epidemic proportions.”

The medical profession was alarmed about the bloodshed that accompanied the introduction of cars into mainstream society in the early part of the last century. Since then, views have evolved considerably. Image: New England Journal of Medicine

The medical profession was alarmed about the bloodshed that accompanied the ascent of cars in the early part of the last century. Since then, views have changed considerably. Image: New England Journal of Medicine

But as time went on, the medical establishment became much more muted in its response. Public health research gravitated to relatively minor risks — like the connection between traffic collisions and diabetes or sleep apnea — instead of more significant dangers like drunk or distracted driving. In 1987, some doctors took to the pages of the Journal to criticize their colleagues for being “relatively silent about the relation between alcohol and motor vehicle accidents.”

These shifts are charted by David Jones, a doctor who studies the history of medicine at Harvard, in a recent review of how American physicians have addressed the public health threats posed by automobiles. Looking at the last century of articles about cars and public health published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Jones charted the fascinating historical trajectory of how physicians’ views on driving-related health risks have shifted, in an article that was itself published in the Journal earlier this month.

Despite an article in the most recent edition of the Journal finding that distracted driving is associated with significantly increased crash rates among both novice and experienced drivers, Jones says doctors still don’t seem to be comfortable taking decisive action to prevent these kinds of collisions.

I recently spoke to Jones about his research. Below is an edited transcript of our interview.

It sounds like doctors have been a little bit hesitant to intervene.

Because of their position on the front line of disease, doctors become aware very early on of what types of things in our society are causing threats to life and health. The question is: What’s the appropriate response?

When the first cars started showing up on the roads in the 1890s, within 10 years doctors at medical journals were astonished by the rising numbers of people who were killed in driving accidents.

Pretty early on, probably by the 1920s or 1930s, most doctors would say the biggest problem with driving is drunk driving. That’s totally clear now. If you look at the leading cause of car accidents, it’s alcohol. Society has responded by criminalizing drunk driving, which is probably appropriate — although there are a lot of people who would say that the sanctions aren’t nearly strong enough.

What’s the role of doctors in all of this? One question that came up in the 1920s: Should everyone who wants a driver’s license undergo a medical examination? And many states considered those laws but none of them were seriously enacted. The doctors who responded to the New England Journal didn’t want to do that. That would have been a huge burden on physicians.

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Midtown Movie Car Chase Ends with Car Jumping Curb, Injuring Two

The New York Post has posted shocking video of a movie car chase being filmed in Times Square that ended with a car losing control, jumping the curb and injuring two pedestrians. (Warning: this includes some graphic images):

Fortunately, according to the AP, the pedestrians' injuries were not life-threatening.

It's not clear how tightly the set was controlled at the time. According to the Post, one of those injured was not associated with the movie, and the car ended up smashed into the Sbarro at the corner of 47th and Broadway, which was open for business.

Thanks to Gothamist, where we first saw the story.
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“Vision Zero”: Not One More Traffic Death


Airline safety has improved dramatically in the last 10 years, after two 1996 crashes killed 375 people.

“This is the golden age of safety, the safest period, in the safest mode, in the history of the world.”

That's Marion C. Blakey, former administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, speaking last month just before the end of her five year term. As today's New York Times reports, Blakey presided over the FAA during the last half of a 10 year period in which fatal airplane crashes in the United States dropped by 65 percent, to one fatal incident per roughly 4.5 million departures. 

There have been no fatal airliner crashes involving scheduled flights this year in the United States and just one fatal accident: a mechanic who was trying to close the cabin door of a chartered Boeing 737 on the ground in Tunica, Miss., fell to the pavement during a rainstorm.

Airline safety improvements over the past decade can be credited in large part to a government directive issued after two 1996 crashes -- TWA 800 off Long Island and ValuJet 592 in the Florida Everglades -- killed a combined 375 people. Yet there is no such action demanded to address the ~42,000 auto-related deaths that occur on domestic streets, roads and highways every year.

Mark Rosenberg, founder and former director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wants to change that. A proponent of the Swedish-born "VIsion Zero" (as in zero roadway deaths) movement, he has evidence to prove it can be done, writes Washington Post columnist Neal Peirce.

Traffic deaths, Rosenberg insists, constitute an epidemic we can prevent. Sweden has succeeded, driving its yearly toll down to 440, lowest since World War II. Annual traffic-related deaths of children, once 118, sank to 11 at last count.

How did the Swedes do it? Tough seat belt and helmet laws, to be sure. But they've also begun to remake their roadways. Red lights at intersections (which encourage drivers to accelerate dangerously to "beat the light") are being replaced with traffic circles. Four-foot high barriers of lightweight but tough Mylar are being installed down the center of roadways to prevent head-on collisions. On local streets, narrowed roadways and speed bumps, plus raised pedestrian crosswalks, limit speeds to a generally non-lethal 20 miles an hour.

Britain, New Zealand and the Netherlands are also registering major success with safety redesign and tough roadway rules. New Zealand cut its death rate by 50 percent in 10 years. But in the United States, we're "stuck," notes Rosenberg, at 42,000 to 43,000 deaths a year, adding:

"If those 42,000 deaths came from air accidents, air traffic would come to a screaming halt, all airports closed until we fixed the problem. But because our staggering numbers of road deaths come in ones and twos, they don't get attention. Fatalism is our biggest enemy."

Photo: ATIS547/Flickr

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Studies Refute DOT’s Claim That One-Way Avenues Are Safer


Prospect Park West at 8th Street, September 16, 2006, 9:45 am. "Higher vehicle speeds are strongly associated with a greater likelihood of crashes involving pedestrians as well as more serious pedestrian injuries." American Journal of Public Health

Last Thursday, DOT Deputy Commissioner Michael Primeggia presented a plan to turn a pair of two-way avenues running through Park Slope, Brooklyn into one-way arterials. The aim of the plan, according to DOT, was to improve pedestrian safety

Yet, in his presentation to the community the only specific evidence Primeggia gave to back up his safety claim was a reference to an avenue in Brooklyn where crashes had declined 15% and total injuries 22% after DOT turned it into a one-way. Primeggia didn't provide the name of the avenue. "I know that two-way streets are less safe," he said.

While more than 650 community members came out to say "no way" to DOT's one-way plan, one 28-year Park Slope resident arrived with a stack of academic studies directly refuting Primeggia's safety argument.

This Park Sloper, who wishes to remain anonymous because he often works with city government, is employed by one of New York State's transportation authorities. He is a member of the federal Transportation Research Board and a professional transportation planner and traffic engineer, with an undergraduate degree in civil engineering and a masters in transportation planning from MIT.

Unfortunately, the evening's testimony was cut short and his powerful testimony was left undelivered. Here is what he would have said if he had gotten a chance:

The proposal under consideration here this evening may have merit in terms of moving traffic through Brooklyn as a whole. However, in terms of serving Park Slope, this project is ill-conceived and you would be ill-advised to endorse such a plan.

I'll focus on just one aspect of the plan -- the significant negative impact it can have on some of Park Slope's most precious but vulnerable citizens, that is, our small children. With PS 321, the magnet school that was PS 10, PS 39, PS 282 and various middle schools, private and parochial schools, more than 3,000 children use Sixth and Seventh Avenues daily to walk to and from school.

One-way street networks can result in more pedestrian accidents, particularly among children. This effect has been noted in a number of transportation studies published in respected academic journals. I'll cite and quote certain relevant reports and articles for your consideration:

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