Car accidents don’t seem to matter

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If any more chilling statistics were needed on traffic accidents, here are a few more: Road injuries are now the biggest killer of children and young adults worldwide, and have also moved up to the eighth leading cause of death in the world for people of all ages.

These are the latest facts from the World Health Organization. Will they make a difference? The evidence suggests they will not. For the past 15 years, the rate of road deaths has stayed fairly constant, at about 18 per 100,000 people. Since that figure has not changed, it can be assumed that the second worst part of the WHO report, after the deaths and injuries, is that we have become numb to these sorts of statistics. We are no longer surprised or shocked by them. We take them as the norm. We just assume that this is an inevitable part of our life, instead of the outrage that these figures should produce.

For those who might still be interested, the reasons for traffic accidents range from speeding, distracted driving like using cell phones and driving under the influence of drugs, to jumping red lights, driving in the opposite direction and not putting on seat belts. They include joy rides, the new craze of drifting, not using child restraints, reversing on main roads and not leaving sufficient distance between two vehicles. In addition, there are drivers who do not have a driving license, do not use their headlights when driving at night, do not use indicators while changing lanes and do not regularly have their vehicles inspected.

The risk of road traffic death changes depending on where in the world a person is living. Those in low-income countries have a risk that is three times higher than those in high-income countries. Middle- and high-income countries have also had more success when it comes to reducing the number of road traffic deaths. No reductions were seen in low-income countries, the WHO report concludes.

Saudi Arabia, where the motor vehicle is the main mode of transportation, is not a low-income country which makes its perilous record on the road very puzzling. Last year, more than 7,000 people died due to car accidents. A car accident happens every minute on average in Saudi Arabia, or more than 460,000 crashes per year. Nearly 80,000 people became disabled in the Kingdom in 2017 as a result of road accidents. Eighty percent of them will have to live the rest of their lives with a disability.

The Kingdom has gone into overdrive to reverse the trend. As of this year, according to traffic regulations amendments, motorists who cause serious traffic accidents resulting in death or permanent impairment can be jailed for up to four years and fined SR200,000.

But like most countries, Saudi Arabia is up against statistical numbing, which begins at anything more than one. This tendency to relate more emotionally to the reality of a single person involved in a car accident than to a million people is especially powerful when it comes to the way we perceive things because what might happen to a single person we know, might happen to us.

But even if we relate more closely, if it moves us more, to what happens to one person that we might know than to what happens to one million people, that should be enough to make us drive properly and take driving seriously. And yet, when it comes to road accidents, how loud do we have to yell and from how high a mountaintop? It seems there is no mountaintop high enough nor voice loud enough to overcome our indifference, apathy and unresponsiveness to such tragedy.

The goal of the UN is to halve road traffic deaths by 2020. Sadly, the evidence suggests that there will be a lot more suffering before that happens.


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