We hear about lives lost on our Nation's roadways every day in the news, but none of us should ever forget that these are not nameless, faceless people. They are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, and friends.– David L. Strickland
Traffic safety is a serious public-health issue worldwide. In the United States alone, motor vehicle crashes (MVCs) are the leading cause of death for people ages 5–34. In 2012, more than 2.3 million MVCs were reported in this country, representing more than 30,000 deaths and 2 million injuries. Based on 2010 data, annual crash-related costs were estimated at $277 billion, while the total societal harm was estimated at $871 billion. Worldwide, the annual costs of MVCs are truly inestimable.
Efforts to improve traffic safety are long-standing. Many grassroots programs combat this terrible toll on the highways. When available, local and state police are on the alert for dangerous drivers. Corporations sponsor ads aimed at promoting responsible drinking and reducing texting people do while driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is devoted to improving transportation safety.
Prevention of injury to vehicle occupants is our AC4P mission. To reduce the tragic losses from vehicle crashes, traffic safety must become a core value of our country, not just a priority to be shifted up and down a list of many other societal issues. Discussions about traffic safety should be a regular topic of communication among families, friends and co-workers, students in classrooms, employees in training workshops, and other groups. Why aren't conversations about keeping people safe from an MVC common?
Many psychological principles contribute to this lack of dialogue, including (a) a lack of cognitive dissonance (e.g., not perceiving an inconsistency between one's driving behavior and an attitude of safety); (b) the fundamental attribution error (e.g., assuming there is something fundamentally wrong with someone who caused an MVC); (c) the self-serving bias (e.g., failing to appreciate our own mistakes and seeing ourselves as more skilled and less risky than other drivers); (d) inherent difficulties in changing long-held beliefs or attitudes (e.g., the confirmation bias, Chapter 9); (e) conformity (e.g., texting while driving because “everyone does it”), and other factors. Ironically, these same principles could be used to benefit traffic safety if people understood and applied them for systematic positive change.