Finally, someone—someone whose work I respect—has said what I have been saying since the beginning of the pandemic lockdowns. I'm tired of being laughed at, and much worse, when I point out that it is inconsistent to excoriate people who resist some of the anti-pandemic measures, while at the same time themselves not thinking twice about driving a car. Both are actions that can endanger others, but most of us have decided to give automobile dangers a pass. We think so little about them that we tolerate, even joke about, impaired driving, speeding, road rage, poorly-maintained cars, and driving without a license or insurance coverage. Cracking down in these areas would no doubt make a huge difference in automobile injuries and fatalities. But even then there would be dangers from weather, from carelessness, and from that wasp that flew in the window and is crawling into your ear. (The last really happened to a friend of ours, who managed to get off the road safely—I'm not sure I could have.)
You want to protect yourself and others? If you can't walk to where you are going, stay home.
But of course we don't do that. The consequences would be too great.
I want people to understand that the various measures we are taking against this pandemic also have great consequences, ones that are not as immediately obvious as ending up in a COVID hospital ward.
George Friedman says it well in his article (from which I took my own post title), COVID and Cars. Unfortunately, it is behind a pay wall, but I've extracted a few quotes.
Every year in the United States, about 40,000 people die in car accidents. Some 1.35 million die in car accidents globally. In fact, they are the eighth-largest cause of death in the world. In the United States, about 3 million people are injured in automobile-related accidents.
These numbers exist despite all the efforts made to make cars safer. The reason cars aren’t banned is because the economic and social consequences of doing so would be devastating. The supply of food and other essentials requires trucking. Maintaining friends and seeing family require cars. In the United States, our ability to use land efficiently depends on cars to sustain a dispersed population. Yet this dependency carries a risk. In the back of your mind, you are aware as the ignition is turned on that you may die. You dismiss this possibility, of course, and proceed with your life.
What has happened is that a known risk of death and injury has been measured against the necessities of life, and a calculated risk has shown that tolerating the chance of death and enjoying the benefits of the car is preferable to seeking to eliminate car deaths by eliminating the car. The principle that death must be fought by all means is not practiced in the case of car deaths because a more subtle calculation takes place.
It’s a reminder that in most actions of human life there is a possibility of death or injury, but a life without those things would be impoverished. You can live without many things for a short and predictable period. Living without them indefinitely creates pressures on individuals and society. The trade-off between death and life is the human condition.
The idea that we can go on indefinitely with each new chapter forcing us to shelter in place is a superficial view of what will happen. As with automobiles, where we risk death on every ride and where many find it, the risk of COVID-19 will be integrated into our thinking, and we will make choices.