Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 28, 1952

Putting The Blame On The Cars

Roy E. Stephens, Burnet, Texas

"Let's make it safe to travel on Texas highways," was the cry. So the Traffic Safety Law was passed in Texas making it imperative that your car pass a rigid examination of lights, brakes, steering gear, windshield wipers, etc., by September 1st of this year. It was called "putting some teeth in our traffic laws." That is true, but they were not wisdom teeth.

I'm sure we all believe in rigid laws on our highways. Certainly the fact of 1,150,000 injuries in highway accidents per year, of which approximately 30,000 deaths occur, is one to make all people sit up and take notice that something needs to be done. But here is a question, what is the real cause of many accidents? Is it the car you drive, or is it the man driving the car? Is it the condition of the car, or the condition of the driver? I know a car ought to have good brakes, but what if the driver is so drunk he neither knows whether he should stop, nor cares? Good lights are fine on a car, but I have seen men so drunk they could not have seen in the best of light. The steering gear of a car ought to be in good shape so a car can be steered straight, but if a fellow cannot walk straight, how can he be expected to steer a car straight? The matter has not been corrected even though the car is in perfect condition, if the man in the car is incapable of steering it straight. It goes where he turns it, you know. Certainly we should have good windshield wipers, but I have seen men so drunk at the steering wheels of cars that they could not have seen out if the cars had been without windshields.

What is the real cause of accidents? Is it mechanical defects in the car? In March, 1950, the Harvard Law Review contained an interesting article on accident causes and this statement appeared in the text "Other studies make it clear that contrary to widespread popular impression, mechanical defects play an insignificant part in causing automobile accidents. Thus, only 3.5 percent of all cars involved in accidents have been shown to have mechanical defects, and in only 0.25 (that's just one in four hundred) percent involved in accidents can it be shown that the defect played a part in causing the accident. And mechanical inspection of vehicles has yielded disappointing results in promoting safety."

The National Safety Council estimates that one-fourth of the fatal accidents are caused by drinking drivers. (Accident Facts, 1948 edition) If anything, the Council errs on the conservative side, as evidence from many sources indicates. In cities where blood tests are taken of all traffic victims who are killed or die within one day after the accident, the percentage of such victims having alcohol in their blood to some extent varied from 38 percent to 52 percent. Thus their estimate is much more conservative than blood tests would suggest. If we apply their suggested percentage of one-fourth to the traffic toll of accidents, death and property damage of 1947 we find that of the 32,300 persons killed in motor vehicle accidents the number due to alcohol was 8,075 persons; 230,000 injured due to alcohol of the 1,150,000 total injured in highway accidents, and $530,000,000 of the total of $2,650,000,000 property damage.

Compare the above with the report of the Harvard Law Review, that only one in 400 automobiles involved in an accident, could be proven to have mechanical defect, and that defect have contributed to the accident.

The man does not live who can see the logic of correcting the mechanical factor in accidents, and ignoring the human element, when the mechanical element contributes to one accident in four hundred, and the human element (drunkenness), one hundred times that number, or 25 percent of the total. But what better can we expect from a nation that glorifies liquor for the whole family?

Mr. Alfred W. Kahl, Commissioner of the Iowa Department of Public Safety, had this to say with reference to the traffic fatalities of the first six months of 1950: "It is high time that the citizens in every community in Iowa quit using the term accident when speaking of an occurrence on a highway where a life is taken because of the actions of a drunken driver — a more proper definition would be 'murder'.

Someone may want to say, "I know these things are true, but what can we do about it"? Probably there is very little that would be effective, but there are some things we can do. We can try to teach people that "wine is a mocker and strong drink is raging, and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise." (Prot 20:1) "Woe unto him that giveth his neighbor drink." (Hab. 2:15) We can teach Christians that liquor and Christianity have just about as much affinity as heaven and hell. We can lift our voices by every means available, pulpit, newspapers, and radio in protest against this vice. We may have to change locations occasionally, but lets not change the word.

We can support any legislation that would impose intermediate offense for driving while under the influence of liquor, inasmuch as recent tests prove that small amounts of alcohol substantially impair driving ability. We could, where possible, avoid patronizing firms that are engaged in the sale of intoxicants. We could support legislation that would make chemical tests of blood and breath, for proof of intoxication, compulsory by law. For personal safety we might avoid driving during late hours of night and early hours of morning, when most accidents caused by drunken drivers occur. You might not be the "target of tonight," by imposing such a curfew on yourself. If you resent this idea of scurrying for cover from the drunken driver, there is the above alternative — pound on tables of law that will establish an open season on drinking drivers.