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No Accident

Eliminating Injury and Death on Canadian Roads

By Neil Arason
Subjects Medical, Public Health, Technology & Engineering, Travel
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Paperback : 9781554589630, 300 pages, April 2014
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781554589654, 300 pages, April 2014


Excerpt from No Accident: Eliminating Injury and Death on Canadian Roads by Neil Arason

From the Prologue

In 1913, the automobile began to be mass-produced on a moving conveyor by Henry Ford. Starting then, cars came off the assembly line and began to be sold in large numbers. With even more efficient assembly line production taking place over time, cars would be mass-produced at ever greater rates: by the 1920s, Ford was producing a Model T about every twenty-four seconds. But only simple roads continued to be built for them. And that was that.

Hardly any effort was made to determine if the amount of responsibility handed to the drivers of these machines was actually within the limits of the fallible human condition. We rarely worried about a poorly designed road because, when things would go wrong, it would mostly be viewed as the driver's fault anyway. The car would end up as a grand experiment involving the world with little in the way of a back-up plan for the millions of failures to follow.

From the time the first automotive traffic death occurred at the end of the nineteenth-century, even before the age of mass production, we would allow automobiles, in mounting numbers, to run over our fellow human beings, disfigure them, inflict pain on them, and kill them in acts of bloody violence. We would give implicit permission for this to re-occur on a daily basis for over a century to come. Today, thirty-three hundred people die every day on the world's roads. 1

This progression would be accompanied by a continuous pattern of blaming human behaviour for this violence. Even with more data and a growing understanding of how people actually behave in the real world, we would keep designing systems that relied upon perfect driving—by every driver at every moment in time.

We created one of the biggest human-made and systematic methods for physically assaulting people in Canada and across the globe, and we needed systems to respond to this. So we created new laws, formed new insurance bureaucracies, and saw the rise of specialty lawyers and the near take-over of the justice courts for traffic matters.

To help us cope emotionally, we took the view that these physical assaults were acts of nature, and simply beyond our control. Such thinking continues to this day. On an October day in 2012, a family of four from Calgary was vacationing when, on a highway, a foot-sized rock shot out from a flatbed truck and came through the passenger-side windshield of the family car. The rock killed a young mother of two, Janice Cairns. The rock had likely become lodged between the truck's wheels and no inspection caught it before it was carried onto the public highway, no sensors detected its perilous hiding place, and no guard or fender prevented it from becoming dislodged like a missile. Despite an array of possible measures to avert such a disaster, the police corporal on the crash scene simply said,”It's an act of God. ”2

But how can the by-products of human-made machines and human-managed systems end up construed as acts of God beyond our control? In our prevailing world view, we have thrown up our hands to let things simply take their own course. Perhaps we should not be surprised then to find that, today, the World Health Organization has estimated that 1. 2 million people are killed worldwide, and up to fifty million injured, from motor vehicle crashes each year. 3

The annual growth of the automobile continues to rise rapidly around the world. In the book Two Billion Cars, Sperling and Gordon estimate that there are currently over 1. 5 billion motor vehicles in the world, and that this number will surpass two billion by 2020. 4 This growth will especially occur in countries moving towards a car-dominated culture, including China and India but also much of south and east Asia, Africa, eastern Europe, Russia, and South America. Across much of the planet, the number of deaths and injuries caused by the automobile will simply rise.

Today, China is the world's largest car market, which is not surprising given the dramatic expansion of its middle class. In many South American countries, the expected death toll from the automobile is still rising each year, and may not peak until 2020 or later. In fact, it is estimated that the number of people killed and injured on the world's roads will rise by more than 60 percent between 2000 and 2020. 5

In Canada, since 1950, over 235, 000 people have been killed in motor vehicle crashes. 6 In the last ten years, in this country, the number of people killed from all types of assaults combined with those killed by war and acts of terrorism made up, by comparison, the equivalent of just 15 percent of the total number of people killed in land-based transport accidents. 7 In just ten years, from 1999 to 2008, over 186, 000 people were hospitalized due to serious injuries from traffic accidents in this country. 8 While Canada has made progress in protecting vehicle occupants, this progress has not been as steep as the best performing countries. Also, we are no longer making significant progress in protecting vulnerable road users, like pedestrians and cyclists. In the last decade in Canada, there was no progress in reducing fatalities and major injuries for pedestrians and cyclists struck down by cars, trucks, and buses. 9

Table of contents

Table of Contents for
No Accident: Eliminating Injury and Death on Canadian Roads by Neil Arason

List of Illustrations

Foreword | Ralph Nader


Author's Note


Chapter 1: I Know Your Type

Chapter 2: The State of Affairs

Chapter 3: The Ethical City

Chapter 4: The Finished Road

Chapter 5: Regulating One of the World's Most Dangerous Consumer Products

Chapter 6: Vehicles That Protect People from Injuries

Chapter 7: The Vehicle That Would Not Crash

Chapter 8: The Silent War




It is possible to eliminate death and serious injury from Canada’s roads. In other jurisdictions, the European Union, centres in the United States, and at least one automotive company aim to achieve comparable results as early as 2020. In Canada, though, citizens must turn their thinking on its head and make road safety a national priority.

Since the motor vehicle first went into mass production, the driver has taken most of the blame for its failures. In a world where each person’s safety is dependent on a system in which millions of drivers must drive perfectly over billions of hours behind the wheel, failure on a massive scale has been the result. When we neglect the central role of the motor vehicle as a dangerous consumer product, the result is one of the largest human-made means for physically assaulting human beings. It is time for Canadians to embrace internationally recognized ways of thinking and enter an era in which the motor vehicle by-product of human carnage is relegated to history.

No Accident examines problems related to road safety and makes recommendations for the way forward. Topics include types of drivers; human-related driving errors related to fatigue, speed, alcohol, and distraction and roads; pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit; road engineering; motor vehicle regulation; auto safety design; and collision-avoidance technologies such as radar and camera-based sensors on vehicles that prevent crashes. This multi-disciplinary study demystifies the world of road safety and provides a road map for the next twenty years.


``This is not a narrow-gauged book. Instead, it is a very well-written and documented story, comprehensive in scope, motivating in design and elevating in its global humanitarian purposes. Mr. Arason also pays attention to getting around on the ground in much healthier ways than by motor transport. ''

- Ralph Nader, from the Foreword

``No Accident is a major work and it largely achieves its very difficult aim of understanding the complex issue of road crashes, one of the world's primary causes of human trauma. The book advocates the safe system approach, the leading vision in the world today, and Arason explains in a clear way why we have road crashes and how best to prevent and even eliminate them. This book is a ‘must read’ for all stakeholders (including but not limited to engineers, policy-makers, the automotive sector, law enforcement, and public health). I hope reading this book will change their thinking on road safety. ''

- Fred Wegman, professor of traffic safety, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands

``Working in a busy trauma centre, I find it hard to imagine a world without serious injury and death from road trauma. But that optimistic message, together with a detailed description of how it can be achieved here in Canada, is the theme of this captivating book. Extensively researched and illustrated with historical vignettes, news stories, scientific research, and interviews with experts, Arason's book describes the safe system approach to road safety in everyday language. The book is a must-read for everyone with an interest in understanding and preventing road trauma. ''

- Jeff Brubacher, MD, Emergency Physician, Vancouver, British Columbia