Here’s a popular question on Quora.com right now:
Why is America’s Car Culture, which kills 40,000 people per year OK, but our Gun Culture, which kills far fewer, of such great concern?
It has 67 answers (including one from yours truly), 122 followers, and more than 24k views. If I had to guess, Id’ say this question is popular because it strikes at the heart of two very passionate groups:
- Gun enthusiasts, who believe that responsible ownership is the key to safety, and
- Car enthusiasts, who generally believe that they’re great drivers
Regardless, a lot of the answers suggest that guns are much worse than cars. This is not true.
I would argue that half of all car “accidents” aren’t accidents at all, but rather reckless and negligent behavior that’s akin to murder. I would argue that cars are JUST as dangerous as guns.
But before we get to why I say cars are just as bad as guns, let’s get to the “guns are worse than cars” arguments:
Why Some People Think Guns Are Worse Than Cars…And Why They’re Wrong
Argument #1. Cars are more useful/necessary than guns, so it’s OK that they kill so many people.
This is a dubious argument, as it depends on circumstance. If I’m a police officer defending myself from an armed attacker, a gun is more useful/necessary than a car. If I’m a regular guy commuting to work, then the opposite is true.
You simply can’t argue necessity without context. Unfortunately, we live in a world where both guns and cars are needed.
Argument #2. Unlike guns, cars are not lethal by design.
This argument isn’t really true either. The average car in the USA weighs more than 3,000 lbs and has a top speed in excess of 85mph – it’s a perfectly lethal device. Need proof? About 33k people died in or because of a car in 2010.
Now, are cars intended to kill people in the way that guns are? No. But they’re definitely lethal, and that lethality is inherent in their designed capabilities. To say a car isn’t lethal is to make a semantic argument.
Argument #3 When someone dies because of a car, it’s an unavoidable and “blameless” accident.
At best, a half-truth. While there are some vehicle fatalities that are truly bad luck (like some cargo falling off a truck on the highway), the vast majority of fatal “accidents” are neither blameless or unavoidable.
According to the National Highway Safety Transportation Administration (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data for 2010, 31% of fatal crashes involved alcohol. That’s criminal behavior that’s easily avoidable.
Looking at the big picture (about 25,000 fatal crashes that killed 33,000 people):
- In 15% of all fatal crashes, the vehicle left the roadway and either crashed, or the driver over-corrected once off-road and then crashed
- About 10% of fatal crashes occurred because the driver was going to fast for conditions
- About 10% of fatal crashes occurred because the driver either a) didn’t yield or b) didn’t follow traffic signs (failure to stop, running a red light, etc)
- About 7% of fatal crashes occurred because the driver was operating in a “reckless or erratic manner”
- About 500 people (2%) died in 2010 because they made a dangerous attempt to pass another vehicle or decided to drive on the shoulder or median to pass
- About 273 people (1% or so) died in 2010 because they were following too closely
- 178 people died in 2010 because of road rage
These are all avoidable fatalities caused by drivers who made negligent and reckless decisions.
- 1.5% of fatal crashes were caused by bad weather
- 0.5% of fatal crashes were caused by animals in the roadway
- 0.4% of fatal crashes occurred because of a tire failure
- 0.2% of fatal crashes occurred because of debris in the road, pot holes, and similar obstacles
These are what I would call accidents: random incidents beyond anyone’s control. As you can see from the numbers, these types of random crashes just aren’t very common.
Most Accidents Aren’t Accidents
It’s safe to say that at least 50% of crashes are the direct result of an individuals bad decision making. These “accidents” aren’t accidents at all – they’re conscious decisions to take a risk that all end very badly. This means that about 16,500 car deaths reckless, and in the eyes of the law, “intent follows the bullet.”
In other words, if you were reckless, it’s assumed you acted intentionally. That means cars intentionally killed 16,500 people in 2010 (give or take).
Summing Up The Math
Guns killed about 31,000 people in 2010 (see Bloomberg.com story). Of that total, half were suicides…so let’s cut that “gun-related deaths” figure down to about 16,000, as we’ll assume people who want to kill themselves with a gun can find another way.
16,000 intentional gun deaths vs. 16,500 intentional car deaths
Cars are just as dangerous as guns, at least in the USA. In my view, it’s time we regulate both of them a lot more strictly.