Nineteen people were killed on Georgia roads over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Unless you knew one or more of those killed — or one or more of the 263 people injured in the 622 crashes on state roads over the holiday — then this is likely little more than a sad statistic soon to be forgotten in the rush to enjoy the next holiday on the list.
But maybe this will give you reason for pause: From Jan. 1 to Nov. 15, 1,013 people were killed in wrecks in the Peach State, according to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
And if that still doesn’t register, try this jarring information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: From 2005 to 2010, more than 230,000 people were killed in wrecks on U.S. roads.
In other words, in five years more people were killed in car crashes than were killed in combat in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan combined, according to online sources.
If there is a positive side to the NHTSA information, it is this: The number of traffic fatalities was trending downward, from more than 40,000 in 2005 to less than 33,000 in 2010.
But they’re not trending downward now, at least not in Georgia.
State officials said prior to Thanksgiving they expected the number of traffic fatalities to rise this year, and the holiday death toll showed they had reason to be pessimistic.
Still, for some reason we continue to view the majority of those deaths as if they were the result of some unavoidable and inexplicable natural phenomena. Hence the term “accident,” when it is likely the majority of those deaths could have been prevented by simply slowing down and paying more attention, or wearing seatbelts or not driving distracted or under the influence.
Maybe we should start by calling routine traffic violations crimes rather than mistakes. There’s an old adage, “never approach it faster than you want to hit it.” Yet the speed limit is viewed these days more as a starting point than a limit.
If you doubt, try driving the speed limit on any road in the area and you’ll likely incur the wrath of motorists who feel entitled to drive 10-15 mph over the numbers posted on signs. We’re all in a hurry these days.
Granted, slowing down won’t solve every problem. There are too many people trying to go in too many directions at the same time on roads that weren’t designed for the amount of traffic they’re handling. So driving in this day and age will never be an entirely risk-free proposition. But perhaps if we take our collective responsibility to each other more seriously, it’s a start and it may someday save a life.
It’s been said that you take your life in your hands — and put it in the hands of others — every time you get behind the wheel and propel thousands of pounds of machinery down the road.
It should also be said that we put the lives of thousands of others in our hands as well. But at the end of the day, we have to trust one another to drive sanely and safely.
It’s a trust that’s too often betrayed. Last year, you ran twice the risk of being killed while driving than you did of being murdered — at least, that’s what the state statistics say. In 2011, there were 543 reported murders in Georgia. There were 1,226 deaths on the roads due to wrecks over that same 12-month period.
Let’s work on improving our odds while on the road. Buckle up, pay attention and drive safely.