Over the last few months I have traveled a great deal in the Chicago metropolitan area for work. Driving on the highways, I am struck by the sheer volume of traffic and, even more interestingly, the various warnings that are posted on the highways.
There are the usual speed limit signs with warnings about what speed to reduce to in work zones, in addition to the cones and other warning devices. What really stuck out over the last two months, though, was the rolling marquee on the Dan Ryan Expressway. The electronic board will give you a running time of the delays and travel times in addition to the more macabre number of traffic fatalities during the calendar year.
Since late April, the figure has jumped from 288 to 403 as I write this column. A startling reality is that in the space of 45–60 days, 125 people have lost their lives on roads in Illinois alone.
The roads are full of people with all sorts of agendas and all sorts of distractions. There is the driver who finds it necessary to talk on the phone as he drives to his next meeting. All of that would be somewhat reasonable if the driver had a hands-free set that would allow him to keep both hands on the wheel and his eyes on the road.
Alas, he doesn’t have either. He is driving along oblivious to the driver next to him who is maintaining a perfect speed right at the limit, but is unaware that cars are stacking up behind her, commendable but probably a little blind to the realities of the road.
Then there is the driver who is working on very little sleep or may be impaired in some other way. Granted, I have touched on a small population of drivers and have avoided the subject of the guy who weaves in and out of traffic.
Traffic deaths have trended down over the last several years because of a combination of better police patrols, improved automobile safety and driver education through warning signs and so forth, but the reality is driven home when you look at the reports of the National Safety Council.
In the most recent data, from 2011, the council pointed to the number of fatalities over the Memorial Day weekend. During that three-day period in 2011, there were 389 traffic-related deaths across the nation, or 13 percent of the monthly total for May.
The numbers don’t lie; there is a great deal of harm that is done when we are in a hurry to get somewhere or when we are unaware of our surroundings. When you are driving upwards of 80 miles per hour or, on the other spectrum, moving at a more moderate 55 miles per hour, you still have the potential to do some serious harm.
After you finish reading this, if you are like me, you will move on to another story and simply forget this one. It is the price we pay for a modern, fast-paced world. I know that, but I also know that those numbers are staggering and many of us see those traffic warning signs every day, and just pass by to our next destination - hopefully.