Sunday, September 18, 2016

Hazard Control Plans

Post left on MiketheGunGuy's blog, embellished here.

I wish we could get as many Moms and Mayors interested in traffic violence as are interested in firearms violence. We kill and injure about as many people with vehicles as with guns and the estimated annual cost of traffic crashes is similar to that of gun violence, i.e., is in the hundreds of billions. Those are just obvious costs; indirect costs vs. benefits are hard to calculate and beyond my level of patience. But the standard retort is “cars are not designed to kill and besides, we need cars”. So those traffic deaths are um, justified?

I harp on this not to deflect from gun violence (I routinely work with New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, although we sometimes have serious disagreements but hey, that's what civil discourse is for), but because as a bicycling advocate and board member of my statewide bicycle advocacy organization and as chair of my county’s transportation advisory board, its my job to worry about such things. For those worried about the arrogance of "Gun Nut Nation", as Mike the Gun Guy calls Second Amendment hard liners, the arrogance of motorists, when combining their cell phone addiction, nine mph over the speed limit, and one for the road mentality with their cars, means the use of cars is statistically just as dangerous as use of guns.  There is even a National Motorist Association that fights common sense traffic laws. Look it up. Plus, with road designs that stress moving cars (vehicle level of service) over safety (vision zero), the carnage has official sanction.

Americans die on the roads at twice the rate of Europeans. Against all rich countries the U.S. doesn't fare much better. The World Health Organization calculates an average of 8.7 fatalities per 100,000 people in high income countries compared with 11.4 in the U.S. and only 5.5 in the European Union. Subpar road safety in the U.S. shows up in other measures too, such as deaths per car or deaths per mile driven. --Newsweek

If anyone reading this has ever been hit by a car, which when misused, is just another high energy projectile that can cause massive tissue damage, permanent injury, mental trauma, and death, you don’t have to be convinced. I sure don’t. I lost a year of grad school and had to change my Ph.D. project after I was run down by a guy in a VW making a mad dash for an opening in one of those mile long gas lines on Long Island in 1979. Unfortunately, me and my bicycle were in the way. Traumatic brain injury.

So say, let’s worry about both. Senseless death or injury is always bad. Guns and cars are potential hazards. Going to my scientific geek-speech for a minute, and with due respect to Constitutional protections for firearms ownership and de facto political protections for car operation, both need to be controlled by good hazard control plans in order to reduce public risk.

What these hazard controls look like is a political as well as a practical consideration. Back in my geochemistry lab, we used a lot of concentrated hydrofluoric acid (HF) as it is essential to dissolving rocks and measuring their chemistry and isotopic compositions. With small exposures, it can dissolve your bones or fingernails as the HF diffuses right through your skin. Expose 10-20 percent of your body and it is a potent neurotoxin. The flourine anion complexes with calcium in your nerve synapses and shuts down critical neurologically controlled functions like breathing and pulse. You die quickly. So protection, such as training, using enclosures to separate you from HF, and protective clothing, are all requirements for handing HF safely. Similarly, we want to protect the public from misuse of cars and guns. Politics (cars) and Constitutional guarantees (guns) have limited what we could do, but that doesn't eliminate the risks.

More importantly, the public has to take BOTH cars and guns seriously, just as a geochemist has to take HF seriously. As far as acids, most probably have no idea what I am talking about. I think most of the public takes guns seriously, either out of fear of them or because they are members of a firearms culture. Gun crime is deliberate and "hazard control" involves law enforcement and keeping guns out of the wrong hands. Too bad the same cannot be said for cars, whose operations are taken for granted; that lax attitude towards both operation and enforcement results in senseless risk–its a matter of reverse cultural myopia.

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