UCR's Chancellor, Tim White (some of you may have seen him on CBS' reality show Undercover Boss a few weeks ago- I didn't) sends out a letter to the campus community every Friday. Most often it is shameless self-promotion, but if there has been a death in the campus community he often reports it. Generally, that's limited to distinguished alumni and emeriti- we recently lost a long-retired political science professor.
Sadly, this was not the case today. Sharon Higgins, a third-year from the Bay Area, was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer while standing beside her car on a freeway on Tuesday, another victim of our auto-centric transportation system. During the same week, two of my own students were in automobile collisions- and no, it's not just because they had a paper due. They both had documentation from the ER. (They're thankfully both fine.) Yet another one of my students had a flat tire on Tuesday, probably putting him in the same peril that took Ms. Higgins' life.
Cars not only kill tens of thousands each year- and maim hundreds of thousands more- but they are indiscriminate and difficult-to-avoid killers. They are the leading cause of death for children, teenagers, and young adults. Furthermore, while you can do something about the second-most common cause of death in America (heart failure), no amount of exercise, diet and medical treatment will remove the danger of automobile collisions. Being a good driver isn't enough, because it only takes one bad driver on the road near you... and we've all seen enough bad drivers to start a mass slaughter. Even foregoing driving isn't enough, as bicyclists and pedestrians injured and killed by cars can attest to.
When will we stop the carnage? How many promising young lives need to be snuffed out before we wake up and make safer transportation choices? I fear it will be far too many.