For many years San Jose and others have touted that the city is the safest big city in America. This came close to home this morning while attempting to have an outdoor seat at my favorite morning coffee stop. While crossing in a signed crosswalk (complete with flashing lights) on four-lane Lincoln Ave., myself and another coffee shop regular were almost struck by a car that just passed right through the light doing about 25 miles an hour. Even though the light was flashing and the car next to her had made a complete stop she bolted the crosswalk missing us by a foot or two.
After sitting down at an outside seat with my morning coffee, I and several others witnessed a a car make an abrupt stop at the same crosswalk, only this time it was a school boy who was almost hit.
As I started to relax a little, I opened up the local page to two seemingly unrelated articles. The first, ("2 die in shooting") talked of a soon to be dad gunned down in San Jose. The other ("U.S. vehicle crashes cost $99 billion a year"), highlighted a recently released report published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The article by Gary Richards, better known as Mr. Roadshow, stated that if you only take into account medical costs and lost productivity from motor vehicle accidents, the costs comes to $500 a year for every licensed driver in the United States. If you add in higher insurance premiums, taxes and travel delays the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration puts the price tag at $230.6 billion. That still does not include property damage or the costs of police and the courts that related to traffic accidents.
Even more telling about the actual costs though -- I already knew they were high -- is how we absorb these costs. I don't mean financially but mentally and emotionally. At a community meeting held last week regarding the Diridon Station area concerned residents discussed how the auto industry would have us believe that driving is all about power, sex appeal and status. What you never see is the costs. The theory is that if you were aware of the total costs you would drive less. But somehow costs are a back page item.
Last week the Mercury News highlighted one of Mr. Roadshows articles on the center front page. The title of the article "The top 10 driving peeves" was interesting given that is was a local story on driver frustrations. However this morning's story on the costs of driving; a national story with significant impacts to every American community, earned only the bottom page of the local section.
In the article highlighting the double homicide it stated that there were 28 homicides in 2009 or 2.8 per 100,000 given that San Jose's population hovers at right about 1,000,000 (28/10). Using the U.S. motor vehicle fatality rate of 15 to 16 per 100,000 mentioned in Mr. Roadshow's article, that works out to 155 fatalities; over five times greater than the homicide rate. But somehow auto fatalities do not get included in safety rankings for cities.
So if we did include both statistics in deciding which big U.S. cities are safer, would New York rank at the top of the list as the safest big city in America? Given the low amount of car ownership and miles driven, as well as the lower vehicle speeds, New York just might eclipse San Jose.