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Our own and other recognized statisticians have, however, computed
$150,000,000 From reduced earning power because of permanent disabilities.--
350,000,000 Estimated net value of future earnings of those killed -- 750, 000, 000 Making a total wage loss of..
1, 250, 000, 000 Medical and hospital expense
100, 000, 000 Property damage--
1, 600, 000, 000 Overhead cost of insurance (insurance claims paid are already included above)---
1,400,000,000 The total of these items for 1954 was $4,350 million which even in these times and in this Capital City is a lot of money.
Can we save it? Some people still cling to the idea that a traffic accident is an act of God, or the devil, to be met with Christian fortitude and a good sound insurance policy. Many people vaguely assume that the costs I have recited are the price of progress, a regrettable but unavoidable byproduct of the modern highway transportation which we so greatly enjoy.
Any such notion is sheer nonsense.
The decrease of 64 percent in the mileage death rate, already mentioned, did not just happen. There is a reason why 36,300 people were killed last year, rather than the 100,000 who would have been killed at the 1925 rate. The reason lies in the patient, unceasing efforts of many thousands of devoted public servants-engineers, police, judges, teachers, administrators, and others in and out of government.
Furthermore, several States and cities repeatedly show traffic death rates only about half of the national average. It is no accident that these are the places that started earliest and have been the most vigorous in their safety programs. If all would do as well—and believe me, gentlemen, there is no good reason why they can't we would save this year some 18,000 lives, over half a million injuries, and $2 billion in hard cash.
These States and cities that have already made the best safety records are the first to say that they can and will do still better, through research, sharpened techniques, stronger official and public support.
Clearly then, accidents are caused and accidents can be prevented, because they have been prevented.
There is no one cause and no one cure. Success comes from no panacea but from a broad balanced program of attack on all fronts. The elements of this program have been agreed upon by all workers in this field and are set forth in the action program already mentioned, which was adopted by the President's Ilighway Safety Conferences of 1946 and 1949 and reaffirmed by the White House Conference on Highway Safety in 1954.
A vital part of this program is to build safety into our highways, just as we increasingly build safety into factories and their equipment, into school and other buildings, into motorcars, into household appliances and so on--in short, into the entire physical environment in which we live. In the long run this is actually the cheapest way to prevent accidents because a highway, a machine or a building with safety built in will stay that way for many years, whereas the other approaches through education and enforcement, neessary as they are, must be repeated year after year.
With safety built in, the driver, factory worker, or housewife has less to worry about. Thus a highway, or anything else we use, which is built to be safe proves also to be more efficient.
Let me illustrate how we can build safety into highways. If the highway is divided, with an adequate medial strip, head-on collisions are virtually eliminated and headlight glare is no serious problem. If shoulders are wide and firm, “running off roadway” accidents are reduced. If no pedestrian can get on the highway, no pedestrian can be hit-and so on.
What we all want is an adequate, efficient highway transportation system by which persons and goods can move from point A to point B, quickly, comfortably, economically, and in one piece. Anything that interferes with such movement, whether it be an accident, congestion, or other delay is a symptom of inefficiency in the system.
The elements that make up the highway transportation system are roads, vehicles, drivers, and sometimes pedestrians. When the road, the vehicle, the driver, or pedestrian misbehaves, to that extent the system breaks down. A single accident may involve all of these elements, as when a driver in a hurry goes too fast, with brakes out of adjustment, on a slippery road; skids and hits the side of a narrow bridge or perhaps hits a pedestrian who stepped into the roadway without looking:
If any one of these three elements had been lacking-if the road had been wider or less slippery, if the brakes had been in good condition, if the driver or pedestrian had been more careful—the accident would not have occurred. Back in 1938, a research report made for and published by the Bureau of Public Roads declared thatby far the majority (of the accidents studied) were the result of a combination of causes, the elimination of any one of which would have prevented the accident.
Thus we do not try to ascribe each accident to a single cause or to say that a certain number of percentage of accidents are caused” by bad roads, bad cars, or bad drivers or pedestrians because the causes are interrelated and overlapping:
What we can say is that a highway built to safe specifications will make some types of accidents much less likely; will make it a lot easier to drive safely.
No highway however can be foolproof. Sometimes a superhighway has had a bad accident record because of the delusion that there was no need for a speed limit or for policing. When, on the other hand, the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and other turnpikes have added good policing to safe design, the result has been a death rate about half the national average.
Thus we need, on all highways, control of the driver through good police and court work and good driver licensing. We need to develop skill and self-control in driving. We can build safety into drivers, too, through driver training in high school, and this we must do. To a lesser degree we can build safety into all drivers, through continuous public education. But education is a slow process. We must design and build highways to be as safe as possible for drivers as they are.
When, as in recent years, the building of safety into highways has lagged far behind the travel volume, the burden of keeping the traffiic moving, and moving safely, has fallen on the enforcers and educators. The traffic engineers have done their best, through signs, signals, oneway streets and the like, to extract the last ounce of safe capacity out of existing roads and streets. These approaches will always be necessary but if we depend on them alone for further reduction of the annual toll, or even to keep it at the present level with constantly increasing traffic, these efforts will be more and more costly and less and less productive of results.
The highways, in short, must also do their part. The Bureau of Public Roads and the State highway departments, by and large, have done their best with available resources. Our plea today is that in the further development of the National Highway Program the aim be not merely more roads but better, safer roads, as an indispensable element in a truly efficient highway transportation system.
To summarize the history very briefly, we have here a statistical chart in which there are three lines.
(The chart referred to is as follows:)
Mr. WILLIAMS. The double line on this chart shows the increase in traffic volume, a very rapid increase in traffic volume. The chart begins in 1925. We can extend it back farther. Except for the war years, when we had gas rationing, you can see how the curve has mounted.
The solid black line shows the number of deaths, actual number of deaths per year, which you see reached a peak in 1941. It went down during the war years on account of reduced traffic through gas rationing. Since then it has been gradually, in general, going up a little, although last year we had a reduction of 2,000 deaths.
Perhaps the most significant line is the other black line, which is the rate, the deaths per hundred million vehicle miles. That has been going down very steadily.
The matter of safety on the highways has been of concern to the Federal Government for many years. In 1924 Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover called a national conference down here which is noteworthy because that was the beginning of getting all of us together, all the various agencies, governmental, business, civic, to work together increasingly on this substantial problem.
To meet the situation after the war, when gas rationing was discontinued, President Truman called the President's Highway Safety Conference in 1946, and last year President Eisenhower called a White House conference, all of which have been very helpful in bringing about a united attack on this problem.
The Truman conferences produced what we call the “Action Program.” It is an agreed upon set of measures that are needed to reduce accidents. The conference last year, called by President Eisenhower, directed its attention mostly to developing more support for that program. We pretty well know what needs to be done. The question is to get official and public support for an organized program in every State and every community.
I might add, referring to the record, that some of the States have attained accident rates not more than half of the national average, and they have done that not through any happy chance but because they have gone at the problem far longer and more vigorously than have the rest of the States. So we know that the application of these standard measures will reduce accidents.
One of the very important and essential elements in that program is to build safety into the highways. We increasingly try to build safety into everything we use: into buildings, factories, and equipment, into household appliances, into motor cars, and into highways. That is really the cheapest way in the long run to prevent accidents.
If you build safety into a highway, or anything else, it stays that way for at least a number of years, whereas the other approaches which we must use; namely, through enforcement and education, we have to keep them up year after year,
During the past 10 or 15 years the building of highways, as you well know, has lagged seriously behind the increase in the number of cars and the use of cars. In recent years the whole burden of moving traffic safely has fallen pretty much on the enforcement people and on the educators.
To make any further impression, to make any further reduction in the rate, to even hold our own against the mounting red line of traffic volume, we need to use every possible measure and we need better highways. We need highways with safety built in.
I will not even mention what constitutes a safe highway because Mr. Fritts, who is going to follow me, will cover that. But we know that you can build safety into a highway and get a lower accident rate with the same kind of drivers that produce the higher accident rate on other highways.
Senator GORE. Do you have any questions, Senator McNamara !
Senator McNAMARA. No. I think that is quite a complete statement. Mr. WILLIAMS. I will add one thing, if I may. We are often asked what are the causes of accidents; what is the outstanding cause. As a general background for this whole thing may I just say very briefly that any highway situation, the highway transportation system, involves three elements: the highway, the car and the driver, and sometimes the pedestrian. All three of those contribute-often, all three contribute to a single accident.
We cannot say truthfully that X percent of the accidents are due to the highway and some other percent to the car and another percent to the driver. We know that with given drivers we have less accidents on a good highway than on a bad one. We also know that with a given highway we have less accidents with good drivers than with bad drivers. So this is not a matter of looking for a panacea. It is a matter of using all the approaches in a united attack on all fronts at the same time.
Senator GORE. You failed to mention speed, which seems to be the principal culprit.
Mr. WILLIAMS. That is one of the acts of the driver. Speed, of course, is up to the driver and enforcement. There is no question but that excessive speed is a contributing cause to a great many accidents. It is seldom the sole cause. That is a rather complicated subject which I would be glad to go into at length if you had time.
We approach the problem of speed through all three of our approaches. We approach it through making highways on which a fairly high speed will be safe. The traffic engineer approaches it through the zoning of highways. Here is a piece of highway on which a speed of 40 is the most that is safe, whereas the general limit may be higher.
We approach it through enforcement of course. And very importantly, we approach it through education and through driver training in the high school, with the whole emphasis not on a given speed in miles per hour but on the hazard of speed that is too fast for the existing conditions.
On a winding, icy road, a speed of 30 may be unsafe. On a wide open road in the straight-away in the country, with no other traffic, a speed of 60 or 70 may be perfectly all right. So it is quite a complex subject which again does not have any panacea.
Our appearance here today is, as I said, not to advise this committee on the extent of Federal expenditures or the sources of Federal expenditures, but to say that from the safety standpoint we do need better highways if we want to reduce this toll.
I must say that there are some figures in this paper that show the economic cost of accidents adding up to over $1 billion a year, well substantiated by competent statistical analysis. That is a lot of money. If we are to make any dent on this we need not only more highways but we need better and safer highways to go along with the educational and enforcement efforts.
Senator GORE. Thank you, Mr. Williams. The committee appreciates your contribution.
The next witness will be Mr. Carl E. Fritts, vice president in charge of engineering, Automotive Safety Foundation.