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COLLISIONS IN STREET AND HIGHWAY TRANSPORTATION

W. J. Sidis

 

        1. The Age of Transportation.  From time immemorial, Man's attention to travel and transport questions, and the risks incident thereto, has been as characteristic as his response to the laws of nature; in fact, the necessity for mobility of persons and objects grows out of his natural responses. His desire to travel for social intercourse, education, recreation, and entertainment is also fundamental.
       
Attempts of inventors and engineers to develop improved vehicles or other transport devices, have always afforded a fascinating field of endeavor; but the rate of improvement, and the variety of devices available to those who require transportation of goods or passengers in modern times, gives ground for expectation that the future historian will refer to the present period as the Age of Transportation. The motor driven vehicle, adapted to ownership and control by the individual member of the public, is undoubtedly the most important transportation device ever developed.

        2. Safety is the Object of the Present StudyThe object of this book is to discuss the question of street and highway safety, or what the author elects to call the "traffic problem," but it is to be understood that there is another pressing problem relating to the movement of passengers and freight, which will be referred to here as the "transportation problem." The latter is understood to mean the study of transportation facilities, with ideas of convenience and economy primarily in mind. The advent of the automobile, motor cycle, bus, and truck, solved the transportation problems of the "horse age," but unfortunately this solution involved the price of an amazing increase in personal danger to the public. The numbers of people injured and killed by motor vehicles are said to be at rates which approximate the losses of a major war.

        3. Four Main Aspects of the Traffic Problem.  Students and specialists may approach a solution of the traffic safety problem by considering one or more of its four main aspects: Evolution, Law, Education, and Engineering. These aspects or subjects may also be referred to as methods of study or lines of development. In addition, less important aspects or methods of study may be considered; the statistical method for instance.

        4. Evolution.  Evolution, although beyond direct and immediate control by human effort, has been seriously advocated as leading to a possible solution. Proponents of evolution may have in mind the elimination of the unfit, that is those least capable of avoiding accident, or the transmission of acquired safety habits to future generations, or both. Evolution might accomplish the desired result without intensive study of the other aspects of the problem, but the amount of time required would mean far too great sacrifice for the present generation.

        5. Law.  Law has been the favorite method of approaching the traffic safety problem in America. Although this book is not intended to discuss this aspect of the problem, the author will be obliged to make references, in places, as to the success, or recommendations as to the advisability of certain regulatory measures. It seems fair to state that we are probably getting the best results that can be expected from regulation. It seems true too, that traffic accidents would be more numerous if there were no traffic control by regulation. The desirability of uniformity in laws and regulations throughout cities and states, is apparent to all.

        6. Drawbacks to Legal Methods.  There are, however, unsatisfactory circumstances arising out of legal control of vehicle drivers, which tend to make this method unfair and unexpectedly costly to the general public. Many arrests and cases of punishment are, in fact, due to causes beyond the control of the defendant. Misunderstanding, confusion, improper street arrangements, and arbitrary or ignorant traffic officers have been responsible for some, perhaps many arrests, whereas the real offender is a crude and undeveloped traffic system. Another undesirable result of the application of law to the traffic problem, is the encouragement of disrespect for law. Arrest and punishment, which are frequently a part of a day's experience for the vehicle operator, seem to result in a certain callous disregard for law. This contempt for law extends into other phases of human affairs.

        7. Revocation of Drivers' Licenses.  The method of restraint or withdrawal of privilege, such as the revocation of drivers' licenses for certain classes of offenses, seems to be more successful and fairer than fine or imprisonment.

        8. Education.  The author will not deal at any length with the subject of traffic safety education, although the necessity for, atid effectiveness of the method have been satisfactorily demonstrated. The full possibilities of this method of accident prevention have, by no means, been realized. Publicity campaigns against grade crossing accidents have been effective, and traffic safety instruction in public schools has shown measurable results. A possible drawback to the educational method may be, that some people will be led to believe that it is all-sufficient, and that changes of an engineering nature are not essential.

        9. Engineering.   The engineering method of attacking the traffic problem is now attracting considerable attention, and the author will endeavor to show how the application of scientific design could be made to reduce the likelihood of accident upon streets and highways. In addition to detailed plans for modifying certain features of present-day streets and highways, questions of control of traffic units using the streets, and correlation of transportation studies with safety studies, constitute the scope of the author's present effort.

        10. The Problem Originated in the "Horse Age."  That the present layout of streets in the typical American city or town, together with the arrangement of curbs, street car tracks, and other features of our street systems, and to a somewhat lesser extent, our intercity road system, is almost entirely the design intended to suit horse-drawn vehicles, is too evident for argument. It does not require a genius to arrive at the conclusion that the high accident rate is due, in no small measure, to the failure of roads designed for horse-drawn vehicles, to fulfill the demands of modern motor-vehicle traffic. In making any comparisons, we should be careful to bear in mind the number of vehicles using the streets and highways, atid the speed and headway with which they run. We should also note that the present tendency is towards still higher speeds, and that the number of motor vehicles is likely to keep on increasing.

        11. Difficulties Encountered.  Two difficulties are invariably encountered in connection with engineering proposals. One is the question of agreement among traffic experts as to the method, and there is no important question upon which there is a greater diversity of opinion; the other is the apparently enormous sums of money required. These will be discussed at the conclusion.

        12. Interrelation of the Four Aspects.  The student will observe that the four aspects of the traffic problem are related. The four methods of study are mutually interdependent. Progress is observable in all, and none may be neglected in the effort to bring about the final result to be desired, namely; the safety of person and property upon street and highway. Out of the ignorance of the past, the subject has been approached in the order, Evolution, Law, Education, and Engineering. Evolution alone handled the traffic problem until the growth of the accident rate and impedence to traffic compelled Law to step in, rather hesitatingly. Education and Engineering were also slow, in turn, in entering the field as the shortcomings of each predecessor became apparent. The solution will undoubtedly come by following the four fundamental methods in exactly the reverse order. Construct properly; educate the public how to use the various instruments of transportation safely; punish, or at least restrain those who will not use them properly; then evolution must be trusted for final results.

        13. Moral Aspects of the Traffic Safety Problem.  The traffic safety question has certain moral aspects which have a bearing upon the method of approaching the solution, although no large amount of space will be devoted to them.

        14. Pedestrian Fatalities Regarded as HomicideConsider the large number of human beings killed each year by motor vehicles. If, in order to save time, motor-vehicle drivers were merely engaged in killing people in whom they had no special interest, there might be said to be a degree of reason in the procedure; but in so far as collisions with fixed objects or other vehicles are concerned, the lack of adequate caution on the part of the driver is suicidal. However, most fatal accidents are cases of pedestrians struck by automobiles; and an examination of the ages of those concerned shows that the ages of the victims are mostly less than the legal age limit of drivers (about 18 years), or older than the prevailing age of most drivers. This means, in plain words, that middle-aged people, usually men in prime physical condition, are engaged in killing children and elderly people, their own relatives in general.

        15. Psychological Aspects of the Traffic Safety Problem.  In order to find a parallel case of the strong attacking the weak, one must go down to the races that practice infanticide, or to the savage Bushman in the remote jungles of Africa. The Bushman is one of the lowest in the scale of African tribes, and has scant regard for his aged and weak; but even he has a slightly valid reason for exterminating his dependents, and that is the scarcity of food. The well fed American automobile driver is actuated, in part, by the primordial traces in Manís mentality for the strong to attack the weak, by laziness, and by apathy towards preventing accidents which do not affect his person or purse. Other factors are: a mechanical complex possessed by some people, which leads them to experiment with any mechanical element or combination that may fall into their hands (a firearm is the favorite element and a moving object is another example); and a destruction complex possessed by a limited number of people. The use of alcoholic stimulants on the part of the driver, and in some cases by pedestrians struck, undoubtedly plays an important part in causing collisions.

        16. Speed, Congestion, and Collisions.  As long as the prime desire in motor-vehicle traffic is for speed, with safety for others as an incidental, there seems little doubt that the accident rate will remain large. Public authorities would be fully justified in setting safety as the first end to be attained, and then permit any rates of speed that did not cause excessive accident rates. Even this cannot be done without a satisfactory analysis of the movement of motor vehicles and pedestrians over city streets, and an analysis of the elements going to make up safe street construction. The speed and safety questions are mutually involved to a very considerable extent. As an example, a driver may lose considerable time threading through traffic congestion and, upon reaching an uncongested street, increase speed to make up for lost time, and incidentally have a collision. The collision is traceable to the congested street which may have been safe enough at that time. The desirability of reasonably uniform driving speeds, and the methods of attaining this end are discussed at some length under "Progressive signal timing made practicable"(168).

        17. The Courts and Pedestrian Fatalities.  It is highly desirable to carefully consider the moral phase of the pedestrian fatality question, since vehicle drivers are almost invariably relieved of responsibility by juries in cases of traffic accidents where pedestrians are struck. However, it is not the intention of the author to propose that a radical change with regard to verdicts in traffic cases, be inaugurated. There are, of course, objections to a general practice of holding vehicle drivers responsible for all or most of the accidents to pedestrians. Such a course might, and probably would encourage a general decrease in the amount of care exercised by pedestrians wherever they might choose to walk.

        18. Pedestrians and Motorists.  On the other hand, it seems essential to dispel an illusion that apparently deceives some people. Pedestrians and motorists are frequently regarded as if they were two different classes of people or types of individuals. Considered sociologically, neither wealth nor class has anything to do with the traffic problem. Except for the questions of immaturity or senility, the two groups, motorists and pedestrians, are identical. When motorists kill pedestrians, they are killing each other, and to a greater extent, their own children and aged relatives. Much current discussion on the subject might lead one to suspect that certain people of little consequence were inconsiderately committing suicide by suddenly projecting themselves before motor vehicles, and involving innocent motorists who are of especial value to society. A proper consideration of the moral nature of the pedestrian safety problem seems to indicate that society at large is responsible for the safety of the individual, whether he is afoot or, for the time being, a vehicle operator. Rather than throw responsibility entirely upon the individual pedestrian and imply that he gets what he deserves if he is run down, it seems to be squarely up to the municipality or other governmental division to assume responsibility for the safety of the public, and to build safety into street and roadway structures.

        19. Intangibles of the Traffic and Transportation Problems20. Losses Due to Traffic Accidents.  The question of the intangibles of the traffic safety problem should not be overlooked. Many see in an accident the purely physical aspects; a limb injured, earning capacity lost, property loss, monetary damages, time lost, etc. A life suddenly lost does not matter to the victim, once it has happened, and the economic loss to society at large in the majority of cases is insignificant; but the intangible cost to the public and relatives in mental shock is heavy and inescapable. The apparent cheapening of human life by frequent motor-vehicle accidents, is reflected in other phases of life, such as willingness to take unusual risks in aviation, use of questionable stimulants, frequent killings in motion picture stories, brutal tendencies in sports, and a crime problem that is demanding the attention of the nation.

 

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