I was going 70 one minute and the next minute I had come to a complete standstill. Would you prefer to get side swiped or hit head on?
While parked on I 91 just south of Springfield, MA last week waiting for an accident to get cleared up, I was listening to the public radio program Where We Live. The theme of the program that day had to do with our roads. I learned that Sweden has some of the safest highways and streets in the world. I also learned that Americans haven’t made a clear distinction between our “highways” and our “streets”. We tend to think more about how quickly we can get from one place to the next rather than thinking about safety.
Would you prefer a traffic light at an intersection or a roundabout? Our response to traffic congestion and safety issues is to widen the road. The thinking here is that we don’t need to change our behavior as much as we simply need more room to do what we’ve always done.
Who else is using the road? Is it more dangerous to walk than to drive in your neighborhood?
As Matts Belin from the Swedish Transportation Administration was explaining how the government tried to take into account the fact that human beings will make mistakes while driving, traffic on the interstate began to move. After a couple minutes I came upon the scene of the accident. There was a car crashed into the guardrail headed in the wrong direction. This was not a one-vehicle accident; there were several cars turned about and banged up.
What irony, I thought to myself. Here I am listening to a program about safety on the roads and highways and I come upon this accident! We were quickly up to speed, cruising along at 70 mph again, and I listened with interest to the conversation.
We need to think about our village and city streets from the perspective of living there – children playing, elderly people walking and folks riding their bicycles… YES! said Norm Garrick, energetically agreeing with his colleague from across the pond. Norm is an Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Connecticut.
We weren’t up to speed more than three or four minutes before we were parked again. If you know the highway as it winds into and through Springfield, then you know there are pot holes; in several areas there is traffic coming and going on and off the highway from both sides. It was a sunny day and fast warming up. The pavement looked to be completely dry.
Take the roundabout for example, said Matts. Everyone knows that intersections are the most dangerous part of driving – and left turns are the worst. He went on to explain that the reason most traffic accidents happen so close to home is not only because that is where we do the bulk of our driving. Most of our neighborhood streets are simply ill equipped and poorly designed when it comes to the kind of driving that has to be done there.
Why are we stopped again, I was wondering to myself.
Matts was explaining that there are far fewer traffic accidents at stoplights than there are at roundabouts. But here’s the thing about roundabouts, continued Matts; dangerous, yes. but fatal? No.
Roundabouts force us to slow down. We aren’t wondering if we can ‘beat the light’; we are looking at traffic. We aren’t perched precariously out in left field – metaphorically – hoping someone will let us make that left turn … inching our way … weighing whether we should floor it and take our chances or look like a wimp. In Sweden, said Matts, we believe our highways and streets need to be forgiving.
The decision was made, according to Matts Belin, to accept the fact of more accidents and fewer deaths. There are no head-on collisions in roundabouts.
I wish we would do politics and war and hatred this way – accepting of the fact that there will be accidents, but determined to insure the mishaps don’t result in anyone getting killed. It would be nice if we would at least plan our highways and city streets that way!
It was another accident – It took several minutes to come up to it. A van was lying on its roof. Several other vehicles were involved. People were milling around the road. I wanted to call in to the radio: Matts Belin – we need you right here, right now! But that would have been illegal.
I wonder, I thought myself … Is it legal to talk on your cell phone while driving in Sweden?
This link is for the sole purpose of exposing you to Mitch Hedberg’s best joke: “Go Around!” You will have to listen until minute 4:15 to get to it.