Curb the Accident Addict

Auto smashes killed 1,289 Canadians last year—in the majority of cases the cause was bad driving

DORA M. SANDERS September 15 1931

Curb the Accident Addict

Auto smashes killed 1,289 Canadians last year—in the majority of cases the cause was bad driving

DORA M. SANDERS September 15 1931

Curb the Accident Addict

Auto smashes killed 1,289 Canadians last year—in the majority of cases the cause was bad driving


ONCE upon a time the Black Plague visited Europe, and people sighed and threw up their hands and died, and thought it was a visitation for their sins. So perhaps it was.

Today a new curse lies on our land—a plague of death by automobile accidents. In Canada last year 1,289 people were killed in automobile accidents—more than a complete battalion of soldiers during the Great War, more than died through drowning, street car, railroad and airplane accidents all put together—a death rate of thirteen in every 100,000 of the population.

Nor was death the only toll. A total of $9,852,830 was paid out by automobile insurance companies, representing a loss of fifty-four per cent on the premiums written during the year. Automobiles alone caused more personal injuries than forty other hazards listed by the Canadian National Safety League, including sprains, bums, falls and explosions of all kinds. In spite of immense sums of money spent in safety campaigns, improved highways and highway markings, traffic control and the erection of stop signs at dangerous comers, there were 600 more accidents in 1930 than in 1929 and only eleven fewer deaths.

Figures in the United States are just as appalling. Thirty thousand people died in automobile accidents last year— enough to populate a fair sized city. More were hurt and crippled than American soldiers were wounded during the Great War. Enough money was lost through property

damage to have given every unemployed man a living wage during the twelve months.

Owing to the research work being carried on in hospitals and laboratories, deaths from disease are steadily decreasing, yet because of the tremendous toll taken each year by automobiles, the accident death rates of Canada and the United States are the highest in the world. In 1929 accidents ranked second in the United States in the causes of male deaths, outranking all other causes of death save heart disease; and of this tremendous proportion, over twenty-five per cent were due to automobiles.

Those of us who entrust our lives daily or even occasionally to automobiles, must ask ourselves where the danger lies. What is the cause of this annual waste of life, limb and property? How can steps be taken to remedy it?

Up till now, there seems to have been little scientific study of the causes underlying automobile accidents in Canada. The number of deaths in each province is recorded by the Dominion Bureau of Statistics, and show the death rates per 100,000 population.

The fact of population, however, seems to have no direct bearing on the problems of automobile traffic. British Columbia, with over 100,000 more people, has 25,000 fewer cars than Saskatchewan. On the other hand, Saskatchewan, with its higher registration of automobiles, has more and flatter highways for them to travel over.

A comparison based on highway mileage figures and automobile registrations showing the density of traffic seems to be the best foundation for a comparison between the provinces that might give some clue to the causes underlying accidents.

On this basis of traffic density, then, Ontario presents the greatest hazard, with a registration of 8.4 cars for every mile of improved highway. Quebec comes next, with 5.3

cars per mile of highway; British Columbia third, with 4.7. Manitoba registers 3.5 cars per mile; New Brunswick 2.9; Nova Scotia 2.8; Prince Edward Island 2; Alberta 1.6; and Saskatchewan .8.

Accidents Not Due to Chance

IN THE face of these figures one would expect Ontario to show the heaviest toll from automobile traffic, but in a comparison of deaths based on registration that province ranks only sixth among the provinces, with a rate of 9.2 fatalities for every 10,000 cars registered. New Brunswick, on the other hand, with a traffic density index of only 2.9 as compared to Ontario’s 8.4, had 20.8 fatalities for every 10,000 cars registered. In Quebec province the rate was 18.4; in Prince Edward Island 13.6. Nova Scotia ranked fourth with a rate of 12.6 per 10,000 cars registered, and British Columbia fifth with 11.3. The prairie provinces showed the low rates one might expect from their traffic density, Manitoba and Alberta reporting death rates per 10,000 registration of 7.6 each, and Saskatchewan proving the safest province for motorists with a rate of four per cent.

It may be argued that the exceedingly heavy tourist traffic in the Maritimes and British Columbia, which greatly increases the congestion of the highways each year, accounts for the high death rates of these provinces. Yet we have the curious anômaly that in Ontario, where the tourist traffic as well as the normal highway density is the greatest of any of the provinces, the death rate is the lowest in the Dominion outside the prairie provinces. No less than 4,164,503 American cars entered Ontario ports of call for touring purposes last year, as against 427,185 cars departing for touring in the States. Furthermore, although registrations and tourist traffic increased in Ontario by many thousands, there

were forty fewer automobile fatalities in 1930 than in 1929 —the greatest rate of decrease shown by any province.

All this seems to show that Ontario has found a secret that will in time be effective in reducing the automobile hazard.

It is something more than good road conditions.

Certainly Ontario has more paved road than any of the provinces, nearly all the mileage in the Maritimes and _ prairie provinces being earth or dirt roads. Yet reports from the Dominion Department of Highways, the National Safety Leagues of both Canada and the United States, and the Highway Commissions for New York State and Connecticut, where extensive study is being made into the causes of motor accidents, all concur in asserting that by far the highest proportion of accidents happen on paved

According to these statistics, less than one sixteenth of all motor accidents can be blamed on wet, muddy or sandy

Moreover, about eighty per cent of all last year’s accidents, the surveys show, happened in daylight when the weather was clear and the pavement dry.

In ninety-five per cent of the cases reported the cars involved were in good condition; and where defective mechanism could be blamed, it was almost always a matter of ineffective brakes, inefficient or glaring headlights, or steering gear—factors directly traceable to negligence on the part of the person driving.

More than seventy-five per cent of the drivers involved had one year’s experience or more.

More than two thirds of the accidents happened when cars were going straight ahead ; not when they were turning, backing or parking.

That is, according to the authority of those whose special care it is to know the facts about motor accidents, an overwhelming majority take place when mechanically sound cars are being driven by supposedly good drivers, on the best roads, under ideal driving conditions.

What, then, is the cause of motor accidents?

Scientific men who have been investigating the causes of automobile accidents both in Canada and the United States, tell us that accidents are not the result of chance.

Knowing the number of cars in operation and the number of accidents, it is a simple thing for one to calculate by the well known law of averages the number of drivers who, on the basis of chance alone, should have had one, two, three or more accidents in a given time. This was tested out recently in New York State.

On the basis of chance alone, the survey showed that 12,000 out of 16,000 drivers studied should have had no accidents in a five-year period. The records showed that actually 13,000 had none. If chance alone had ruled. 3,000 drivers would have had one accident. In reality only 2,500 had one. On the other hand, only thirty-eight should have had the bad luck to have three accidents, whereas the records showed 102. Theoretically, there was scarcely any chance of anybody having as many as five accidents, but there were fourteen who did have as many, and some of them had more.

In other words, it was demonstrated that some drivers are more addicted to accidents than others; that accidents are the result of bad driving and not of bad luck; that accidents don’t “just happen.”

Causes of Accidents

T OOKED at in the cold light of fact, the reasons why so ' many of our fellow beings died last year seem very silly. Chief among the causes reported was:

Failure to grant the right of way.

This resulted in thirty-three per cent of the accidents in the United States and almost as high a percentage in Canada. Yet all over the continent the act governing right of way is similar and very simple. It runs something like this: “When two persons in charge of vehicles approach a crossroad or intersection, or enter an intersection at the same time, the person to the right of the other person shall have the right of way.”

In Connecticut and some other States the wording of the act has been changed to read, “The person to the left shall give the right of way to the person on the right,” thus fixing the blame in any accident beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Other causes, listed in approximate order of frequency are :

Driving on the wrong side of the road.

Driving off the road.

Speeding, or driving too fast for local conditions:

Approaching intersection Road surface Course of road Weather conditions Number of cars on highway Cutting in Failure to signal Following vehicle too closely Cutting comers Passing on a curve

Passing on a hill

Passing standing street car

Passing at intersection

Passing on the wrong side

Carelessly approaching defect in highway.

These are the immediate causes of the greatest number of our motor accidents. However they do not cause the most serious, judged from results.

Far fewer but far more baleful accidents are traceable to what the Department of Highways terms “indirect causes.” They are the result of some unexpected action on the part of a driver not involved, and, tragically enough, cause the worst fatalities and injuries listed in the reports.

These are the greatest tragedies that stalk our highways^ the deaths and maiming that result from somebody else’s carelessness. "When two fools meet at a crossroads,” someone once said, “then there’s an accident.” ' Unfortunately, the fools themselves often escape it.

Because somebody “cuts in,” the third and fourth cars back in line crash.

A overcrowds B, and as a consequence, C is forced off the road into the ditch.

An absent-minded or careless man fails to signal; a gay youngster lets his wheel swerve; an overcautious person cannot make up his mind to pass, or changes his mind for insufficient reason; the absent-minded professor or engrossed business man lets his mind wander for the fraction of a second, and somebody else, forced to swift action, sideswipes or collides with or overturns a third car, while the guilty driver speeds on his way unscathed and conscience

Complete statistics are not available to show how often this happens on our highways and city streets, but enough instances are known to show that the results are often the most deplorable because the victims are absolutely unprepared by any consciousness of danger. The driver primarily contributing to such an accident may be happily sure of himself, knowing just how far he intends to swerve, how effective his brakes are, how much room he has to spare; but the men on his right, on his left or behind him know none of these things. All they know is that another car is impinging on their right of way and they must avoid it as best they can. This often calls for quick thinking, and most of us do not think quickly.

Psychologists say that driving is definitely dependent on a frame of mind. Under certain circumstances we do not respond to thought impulses as quickly as at other times. Sickness, fatigue, temperament, worry, mood, all affect our ability to judge correctly distance and speed. Most drivers have experienced the strange perspective that seems to come with weariness, and it has been authoritatively shown that in cities more accidents occur during the evening hours of 4.30 to six than during the corresponding rush hours in the morning from 7.30 to ten, when approximately the same number of cars are on the streets.

The driver who takes chances is not playing the odds of his own skill and knowledge. He is trusting in strangers, of whose condition of mind, experience, temperament and equipment he knows nothing.

The Financial Responsibility Law

“D EFORE the motor hazard can be reduced, public respon■*4 sibility must be awakened to a sense of the necessity for more careful driving.

It is significant that Ontario has gone further than any of the provinces in legislating against careless drivers. To make beginners’ tests more difficult would not by any means strike at the root of the trouble, according to Mr. J. P. Bickell, Traffic Registrar of automobile vehicles for that province. "It is not,” he says, “the novice who causes most accidents. The worst offender is the experienced driver, the man from twenty-five to forty-five, who has become almost mechanical in his driving habits. His motions are automatic; he could “drive in his sleep.” Often, indeed, he allows his attention to wander, and is, to all intents and purposes, “asleep at the wheel.”

These are the drivers against whom any attempted legislation to reduce the number of motor accidents along our various highways must be aimed.

RELATION OF FATALITIES TO TRAFFIC DENSITY Miles of No. of 10,000 cars Highwaysf per mile deathst registered Deaths per P. E. Island. 7,350 3,650 13 .6 Nova Scotia. 42,567 14,550 2.8 12 .6 New Brunswick. 34,517 11,825 2 .9 20 .8 Quebec....... 178,165 33,040 5 .3 18 .4 Ontario...... 558,734 66,102 9.2 Manitoba. . . . 78,330 25,646 7.6 Saskatchewan. 126,899 152,300 4 .0 Alberta.^..... 100,695 62.426 7.6 British Columbia 97,856 20,520 11.3

“I have said,” continues Mr. Bickell, “and I will say again, that most accidents are caused simply by a lack of care and courtesy on the part of drivers. It is a funny thing how many people who are most courteous in ordinary life push and crowd each other on the highway as they would never dream of doing if they were walking down a street. Meet them at dinner and they are charming; go driving with them and all you hear is, “Look at that fool over there,” or “What does that fellow think he’s doing?” The other driver is always wrong.

It is in an effort to check up on the experienced driver that Ontario last year passed her Financial Responsibility Law. The full effect of this law cannot be felt yet, according to Mr. Bickell, for it is aimed at a classification of persons with bad driving records covering a period of time.

Under the Ontario Act, operators convicted shall be divided into three groups:

Class A. Those convicted for speeding, operating without permission, and reckless driving, providing the fine is under $50, and the responsibility for accidents resulting in property damage is less than $100.

Class B. Those convicted for perjury and reckless driving, provided the fine is more than $50, or accidents resulting in serious personal injury, or property damage of more than $100.

Class C. Those convicted for intoxication and evasion of responsibility and who have a record of serious accidents and convictions.

The rates on automobile insurance or bonds charged these persons are to be ten, twenty-five and fifty per cent above the normal, and the ruling is designed as a safety measure to reduce accidents by making reckless driving expensive.

A similar system has been in force in the State of Connecticut for some time, and has been successful in checking to some extent the alarming increase in the automobile death toll in that part of the United States. However, Mr. R. B. Stoeckel, Chairman of the Highway Commission for Connecticut, expects still further disciplinary measures in that State.

“Fifteen per cent of all people who drive cars,” he told the Press last June, “are incapable or disinclined to exercise mental effort enough to take care of their cars or keep up equipment. I am building on that theory, and on the theory that we need to proceed out of quack remedies into real research and study of motor accidents.”

Who Should Drive Cars?

LAST year, the Province of Quebec Safety League re4 quested civic authorities to establish a court of investigation into automobile accidents similar to the Fire Commissioners’ court. “It was considered,” reads the report, “that a court of this kind would hear witnesses relate the facts of an accident while these facts were still fresh in their minds. It would not only get to the basic cause of an accident. but would at the same time find a way of preventing a repetition of such accident. Much has still to be done in this matter.”

This is something like the Court of Domestic Relations, and seems to provide the solution advocated by most thinking men. Instead of the usual system of Crown prosecution and defense, it is suggested that a judicial attempt should be made to get at the root of the trouble by having those concerned tell judge or jury just what happened, in their own way. Once the facts of what actually happened are established, scientific investigation should be made into the factors responsible for the defendant’s behavior. These having been discovered—and such things can be discovered, as the Court of Domestic Relations has proved—there should follow, not fine or imprisonment but a period of re-education designed to remove the factors of unsatisfactory conduct; or, if this be impossible, measures should be taken to prevent the culprit being put into a position to do further mischief.

This would do a great deal to prevent the repetition of carelessness or recklessness on the part of some (drivers, but it does not avoid the first accidents which made such research possible.

Could not our licenses be more adequate in fixing the responsibility of those who operate automobiles in this country? The fact that it is the experienced driver rather than the novice who is most to blame, points to the wisdom of a rigorous re-examination at the end of the first year, and for each following five or six years until careful habits are established, before renewals are granted. Nor should these examinations be purely technical. Psychologists are now able to test the mental capabilities of individuals and the probabilities of their behaving judiciously or injudiciously in an emergency. Only those who are mentally able to exercise sane judgment and self-control should be allowed the privilege of risking the lives of their fellow-men on the King’s highway.

The death toll of the modem highway is surely grave enough to spur our officialdom to action. The End,