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Only 0.7 percent of federal transportation funds are spent on improving pedestrian facilities.

Toyota and traffic justice: misplaced outrage?

Unless you live under a rock or have been on a vacation on a remote island, you've likely heard about the Great Toyota Recall, in response to safety concerns over stuck gas pedals and faulty brakes. Scary stuff, right? No road user – whether behind the wheel, on foot, on bike or on transit – wants to be on the receiving end of a vehicle that's accelerating out of control.

But the level of media coverage and general hysteria has me stymied. It highlights once again how underwhelmed we are in the U.S. by regular old traffic crashes. By my count, here's the score:

  • Total fatalities (thus far) attributed to the sudden acceleration of Toyotas = 34
  • Ped/bike fatalities nationwide in 2007 = over 5,000
  • Average U.S. traffic fatalities in one year = roughly 34,000

Traffic deaths are tragic – for all road users, for any reason – and are largely preventable. But for plenty of reasons – car culture, consumer protectionism, plain old drama – stories like the Toyota fiasco routinely make the top of the newscast or on the front page, while another dead pedestrian or two is barely a blip. Where's the anger, the outrage for the deaths of the most vulnerable users of the road? Why are we complacent with traffic crashes as just being a 'part of life'?

But I see signs of change for the better. The recent high-level attention to the issue of distracted driving by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation has been nothing short of game-changing. Even Oprah joined the bandwagon. If we can raise the stigma of distracted driving to the level of that for drunk driving, we'll have moved toward a more civilized road environment. And with a stated commitment to sustainability and livable communities, U.S. Sec. of Transportation Ray LaHood will hopefully direct the flow of government spending toward facilities for clean, active transportation.

Active Trans is committed to this challenge – to stand up for peds, bikes and transit riders; to shine a light on too little funding and too many crashes; to clean up the environment, get people more active and make communities more livable, but we can't do it without you. Join us as a member at any level – you won't regret it.