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Rebecca’s entry into our Driver Safety Scholarship contest also deserves an honorable mention. Among the large selection of quality submissions we received, Rebecca took a uniquely different approach to the problem of driver safety in America.
Unlike most contestants, Rebecca’s essay sheds light on the overwhelming amount of traffic on the road today, and how many deadly accidents can be prevented with an increase in funding for and focus on public transit. Her essay outlines the potential benefits that such a switch would yield, while also pointing out how the pervasiveness of “Car Culture” in America is the biggest hurdle toward achieving these goals.
There are many ways I can think of to effectively increase Driver safety; steeper fines, public awareness campaigns, increased difficulty obtaining licenses and more of the like. But I believe the best way to decrease accidents is to decrease the number of drivers.
In Europe, Asia and even in the more urban parts of the United States it is common for adults to not drive on a regular basis, have a driver’s license, or even own a vehicle. The reason behind this is it’s more convenient and less expensive to not drive and use public transit, walk, bike or use other modes of transportation besides a personal vehicle. This creates a situation where the majority of drivers are driving for work and who have more motivation to drive safely than the average driver. Yes, the threat of loss of life and wellness should be enough to keep anyone from driving recklessly, but threat of losing one’s job provides a more immediate and comprehensible reason to drive safely to most people.
Car pool lanes, bike lanes, and well-maintained public transportation such as buses and subways are ways to lower the number of cars on the road. Unfortunately, the circumstances around these are not always the most positive. Biking can be dangerous on roads with unobservant drivers or without bike lanes. Subways and buses are not always given the attention needed to be safe, comfortable and convenient if the city funds them to start with. And with Carpool lanes often only needing a driver with one or two passengers to use they barely make a difference. However, public interest can fuel government support on varying levels from local to federal to help generate funding to upgrade public transportation to be more accessible and safer. Additionally, cities ought to consider raising the number of passengers a vehicle must have to use a carpool lane to encourage even fewer cars on the road.
Publicity campaigns can also raise awareness of and keep the viability of public transportation at the front of people’s minds. For example. When I think of smoking, I have begun to associate it with the FDA’S ‘know the real cost’ campaign which made smoking into a negative thing in my mind that I will never do. But I’ve never seen a campaign so widespread and aggressive to promote driver safety or encourage the use of public transportation. I believe such campaigns could normalize and effectively promote public transportation.
If we suppose for a moment that all of this was successful and severely decreased the number of drivers, leaving most personal driving to happen on the highway or by individuals whose job is to drive, what would happen? With fewer drivers to be aware of, driving laws could be more strictly enforced, which would lead to them being taken more seriously. And in situations where an individual still chooses to ignore the law and drive recklessly, they have less chance of injuring anyone but themselves, because there are fewer vehicles to hit. Beyond just decreasing the number of car accidents, more widely used public transportation may also have a positive ecological impact by decreasing CO2 emissions and slowing the rate we use fossil fuels at. Additionally, if cars were less necessary, it could relieve financial strain on many low-income families who struggle to pay for and upkeep a vehicle, but have no choice.
Unfortunately, the largest issue I foresee with this plan isn’t a matter of cost, accessibility or practicality; It’s the American mentality towards cars and driving. Getting your driver’s license is seen as a right-of-passage, the kind of car you have is a statement about personality and virility-especially with young men. Unsafe driving (such as speeding, purposefully risky maneuvers and not making passengers wear seatbelts or not having enough seatbelts for every passenger) is viewed as ‘fun’, especially with young drivers.
Cell phones also pose a risk with young adults who, already feeling judged or berated by older generations for how much they use them, are likely to ignore warnings to not use their cell phones while driving. This isn’t limited to young people though; older American adults also use their phones while driving, drive unsafely even when undistracted, and treat their cars as a statement rather than just a mode of transportation. Changing the mentality of a culture is a long, difficult process that, while supported by government programs and laws, will only begin to take effect when enough individuals are swayed into changing their attitudes by facts, logic, and practicality.
If enough people were swayed to change how they viewed cars and driving, it would have a domino effect and eventually become the mentality of their entire culture or country. Our Country. This is where I as an individual young driver can cause a change. By treating good driving as reasonable and common sense rather than a chore, by being comfortable with and even preferring biking and walking when possible or being open to taking the bus, and by suggesting carpooling and getting rides with people even when I have the option of driving myself I influence the people who respect me and care about me. If they see a well-adjusted, friendly and trusted person who thinks in such ways about driving and transportation, it can cause them to think the same way, whether on purpose or subconsciously.
In conclusion, creating attitudes and programs that encourage the use of public transportation or other means of transportation besides driving oneself everywhere will not only allow driving laws to be more strictly enforced given the fewer number of drivers, but will have a wide-reaching positive influence on our society and the individuals who comprise it that goes far beyond lowering the number of automobile fatalities.