A new study by the World Bank, Transport For Health: The global burden of disease from motorized road transport (PDF Here) looks at the human cost of our love for the car and it is beyond shocking. 1.5 million killed every year, more than die from HIV, tuberculosis or malaria. And no, switching to electric cars will not solve the problem; Air quality is a major factor and the source 200,000 of those deaths, but 1.3 million of those deaths are due directly due to road crashes. 455,000 of those deaths are pedestrians getting hit by cars. There are 78 million injuries needing medical care.
In addition to injuries, pollution from vehicles causes a broad range of acute and chronic health effects, ranging from minor physiologic disturbances to death from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. In 2010, we estimate that exposure to pollution from vehicles, in terms of particulate matter pollution (PM2.5) derived from
vehicular emissions, resulted in 184,000 deaths globally. This includes 91,000 deaths from ischemic heart disease, 59,000 deaths from stroke, and an additional 34,000 deaths due to lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (CoPD), and lung cancer combined.
Note that last column, the DALYs. Those are the Disability-adjusted life years, or the years lost due to premature death plus the years lived with long health loss, adjusted for severity. Just about 80 million life-years lost or compromised because of cars. In one year.
It's time to recall the car.
Recently urban activist Nicholas Kevlahan suggested that we should recall the streets because of inherently bad design, and that we should fix them to be safer for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. He was watching a senate hearing into the design flaw in the ignitions of GM cars that has led to a massive recall.
This faulty ignition switch design sometimes causes the engine to suddenly cut out and has apparently led to 13 deaths since 2001. There were huge protests and public outcry over these deaths. The Senators were livid that GM ignored this design flaw and continued to fit vehicles with this ignition for five years, and refused to recall faulty vehicles when they finally fixed the design in new vehicles. They grilled the president of GM for hours. That's 13 deaths in 13 years, or one death per year for the United States, a population of over 300 million.
Yet there is not a word about the fact that the same product, the automobile, is killing 1.5 million people a year and injuring 78 million. It's clearly defective in concept and execution, and is obviously too difficult for inadequately trained and regulated drivers to handle. It exists in a defective infrastructure and urban form that make it almost impossible for many people to do anything else but put themselves and their families into these dangerous things every day.
Since we can't recall every car all at once and redesign the entire country, there are at least things we can do to make it less bad. Significantly reduce speed limits. Make drivers pay the full cost of infrastructure construction and maintenance through the gas tax. Build the cost of medical care for those millions of injured by cars into the price of gas. Invest in walkable cities and alternative forms of transport.
Because when you look at the true cost in lives lost and quality of lives of those injured, it's just shocking that such a deadly product was ever allowed on the road.