Republicans are wont to quip that Democrats “never let a crisis go to waste.” By this they mean that Democrats love to identify — or even create — some emergency (real or imagined) that requires them to ride to the rescue. The rescue always includes increased government spending, investigative committees headed by experts, along with blue-ribbon panels chaired by disinterested (but well-connected) pillars of science and academia, new departments to roll out the solutions . . . or even the military, to add urgency.
Now that the COVID-19 vaccines have rolled out — apparently with much credit due the Republican administration — and the end of the pandemic seems nearly nigh, the incoming Democratic administration is scrambling to identify, prevent, and conquer the next emergency they can cut off at the pass and quash, especially since they blame the Republicans for being slow on the draw when dealing with the coronavirus.
Of course, the primary contender is “climate change,” widely attributed to human-caused CO2 emissions. There are skeptics. Not so much about whether the climate is changing as about what policy steps are appropriate to mitigate the changes. Another source of skepticism is the fact that CO2 amounts to only .04% of earth’s atmosphere, yet since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, that amount has increased by 47%. The statistic means that CO2 went from about a bit less than .03% to the present .04% in 250 years. Thank goodness the numeracy ignorance of the American public really shines when it attempts to make sense of percentages of percentages. For perspective consider that nitrogen constitutes 78% of the atmosphere, with oxygen at 21%, and argon at 0.9%.
Democrats love to identify — or even create — some emergency (real or imagined) that requires them to ride to the rescue.
Indeed, the Biden administration has big plans to control US CO2 emissions. Yet with climate change an international concern, the Democrats are looking for a strictly domestic problem they can solve without having to share the credit . . . or responsibility.
Enter former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the newly-nominated Secretary of Transportation. Mayor Pete — as he’s affectionately known — is distinctly qualified to lead that department because of his deep fascination with trains, a fascination contracted at the age of three. President Biden said — hinting at the new crisis — “I am nominating him for Secretary of Transportation because this position stands at the nexus of so many of the interlocking challenges and opportunities ahead of us.” Biden added that he sees the Department of Transportation as the “site of some of our most ambitious plans to build back better.”
The new administration is focusing on the serious epidemic of traffic accidents and deaths. This killer malady affects two-thirds of the population of the United States, or about 227.5 million people. Nearly 6.7 million of them are infected every year — about 3%. In 2018, 36,560 died of this killer malady — an astounding half of a percentage point death rate. And it’s getting much worse. In 2020 over 42,000 died — an 8% increase over 2019 in spite of COVID-19 reducing overall miles driven!
By contrast, COVID-19 affects the entire US population of 330 million. It has, so far, infected 29 million, and killed 525,000 — about 1.8% of the infected population. Although the mortality rate of traffic accidents is much lower, can one put a price on a human life? No; every life is a priceless and treasured gift.
Mayor Pete is distinctly qualified to lead the Department of Transportation because of his deep fascination with trains, a fascination contracted at the age of three.
What is to be done? The .05% death rate of the traffic epidemic is nearly 36 times less than the death rate of COVID-19. But don’t let these figures fool you. As I pointed out in a previous article, “Terror at 30,000 Feet” (December 13, 2010), statistics can be manipulated to prove nearly anything. Still . . . strong measures must be taken.
To contain the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities have closed schools, businesses, and churches and prohibited gatherings above certain numbers of people. Recommendations, in some cases, and mandates, in others, include face coverings and “social distancing.”
To be true to himself, Mayor Pete should be considering mandating oversized, water-filled (from recycled sewage treatment plants) shock absorbing bumpers on all cars and trucks, while insisting on vehicular social distancing, whereby all vehicles must maintain a distance of 60 feet from other vehicles. Extremely dangerous traffic intersections will be closed and repurposed as pedestrian malls and bicycle lanes. The very first intersection to be closed is Knights Road and Streets Road in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, which Time magazine identified as one of the most dangerous intersections in America. Mayor Pete will appoint a distinguished panel of experts to study the feasibility of closing additional deadly intersections nationwide, starting with the 15 most dangerous intersections in America.
Walter Williams proposed that government mandate the installation of sharp six-inch blades centered on steering wheels, projectiles pointed at the driver’s sternum.
Closing all streets and highways to motorized travel in the country will remain an option, as is the expansion of underused Amtrak lines with added haulage capacity to reduce trucking traffic.
Alternatively, the congressional libertarian caucus should be advocating the adoption of reforms proposed by the late, noted economist, Walter Williams, who once suggested that the best way to reduce traffic accidents is to remove vehicular safety mandates such as seatbelts, airbags, headrests, and so on, imposed by past administrations. Williams wryly proposed that the Department of Transportation mandate the installation of sharp six-inch blades centered on steering wheels, projectiles pointed at the driver’s sternum. These safety reforms would provide the necessary incentive for drivers to moderate their behavior.
As of this writing there seems to be little common ground for a bipartisan compromise reform bill to emerge from committee, given the wide chasm between the two perspectives. So President Biden is being urged to use the president’s powers of executive orders to begin implementation of the reforms, now that those powers have been substantially expanded by previous presidents following the legal dictum of “Order now, retract later, when the courts reverse it.”