Not to belittle anyone’s anxiety about the swine flu, but I’m feeling a little peevish this morning. Today’s newspaper headlines are screaming that the global death toll appears to have surpassed 150, including the first death outside of Mexico. As a consequence, countries are banning imports, setting up travel restrictions, and scrambling public health resources. Everyone’s going code-red.
But 150 deaths—the swine flu grand total to date — is just a bad day on the highways of the US and Canada. Day and in day out, North America racks up an average of about 1 traffic fatality every 12 minutes, to total about 42,000 in the US and approximately 3,000 in Canada annually. And according to one estimate,global traffic fatalities are in the neighborhood of 800,000 people per year!
Don’t get me wrong, 150 deaths is awful. And if there’s a chance that swine flu could turn into a global pandemic then we should definitely be marshalling all available resources.
What bugs me is that when it comes to traffic fatalities, few people really notice… or even care. Maybe you’ll see an occasional headline on page B-6 or maybe not. That’s despite the fact that car collisions are the leading cause of death in the US under the age of 45. Vehicles injure or cripple many multiples of the tens of thousands that they kill, often in the prime of life. To say nothing of the secondary health effects of driving that include worsened air quality and rising obesity rates.
So where’s the outrage? Where’s the alarm? Why isn’t the World Health Organization issuing a high-alert to nations everywhere. Stay out of your cars! Stop driving! Stop spending billions of dollars to design high-speed death corridors in the hearts of your major cities!
I suppose that will happen about the time that pigs fly.