Tonight I would like to call our attention to a widespread crisis in
our country. It is something that many of us see all around us every
day, and yet few realize the scope of what is happening. This is an
increasingly pressing problem that MUST be solved quickly and I am
counting on the people of our nation to rise to the challenge and
bring it about. With a few simple changes, we can begin to tackle
the nightmare that our roadways have become in recent times.
Over forty thousand Americans die in traffic incidents every year -- and most of these are preventable and cannot even be properly called "accidents". These needless deaths, along with millions, MILLIONS of injuries, are typically the results of aggressive and inattentive driving -- carried out in situations which are already hazardous with vehicles in close proximity at high speeds. Let me emphasize that word: proximity. Too close together, no margin for error, and no time to react.
Since the Iraq war began in 2003, about 4,000 American lives have been lost in the line of duty overseas. The same five intervening years have claimed TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND American lives right here on our own soil in traffic fatalities. That is FIFTY times our death toll to date in Iraq, and is by far the leading cause of death among our teenagers and young adults.
And yet nobody seems to really notice this going on.
I am here tonight to tell Americans what they must do about this raging war zone found right here on our own highways. If you drive you probably have some personal understanding of this already. The levels of loss and damage related to our personal mobility have become staggeringly unacceptable. Forty thousand per year; think about that. While the casualties overseas are deeply regrettable, those numbers are down in the noise compared to the mayhem on our roadways -- and we are doing this to ourselves. These are Americans dying and suffering, at the hands of their fellow Americans. It is time for all of us to join our strength and our sensibility and fix this problem.
Some of our citizens may need a reminder that driving is a privilege which is earned, and is not a right. Nowhere in our founding documents and laws is it written that anyone has an inherent RIGHT to operate a complex and heavy piece of machinery, much less to do so in a manner which threatens the safety and security of others. That is not the definition of freedom -- and I'm sorry if anyone was confused on this matter, but those are the facts. There is NOTHING that gives anyone behind the wheel the right to think he or she is more important, in more of a hurry, or entitled to consume more fuel than anyone else. There is furthermore nothing allowing anyone to use a vehicle to harrass or intimidate fellow users of the road for any reason -- in fact, such behavior is uniformly DISALLOWED by our statutes. The sole exception allowing urgency or preemptiveness in traffic is made for authorized emergency vehicles responding to a call, and even in those situations, safety comes first. The rights and freedoms that our country's governing principles strive for include that we should all have freedom from fear. President Roosevelt phrased it this way back in 1942 as a way to reaffirm the goals of general welfare and domestic tranquility, during a time when all Americans were pulling together in an urgent national effort to protect those freedoms. Fear was looming large in everyone's lives at that time, and motivated Americans to unprecedented achievement and great pride in their work.
With this in mind, it is safe to say that traveling along a road with an 80,000 pound semi bearing down ten feet behind you is not exactly in line with those goals. When all you can see in your rear-view is death, you are not free from fear at all. And that fear is not caused by some shadowy, distant and anonymous antagonists -- this is a threat leveled in your direction by the actions of a single, identifiable person.
That infringement on our security stops here and now, because that one person is about to be held accountable in the eyes of the nation.
We maintain very high expectations for our other transportation service industries -- our air, sea, and rail personnel take their "zero defect" safety goals very seriously, and the rare failures of those efforts tend to make the national news and trigger in-depth investigations. But on our highways, the burden of safety performance is on each and every individual driver, and to date our record there is extremely poor and getting worse. It therefore falls to all of those who use our roads to work together and turn this around, starting now. In short, America needs to learn to drive all over again.
Tonight we are launching a program known as the THREE SECONDS initiative. I call upon the legislatures and law enforcement in all states to accept this simple working model and bring the following message in unity to all citizens in word and deed:
If you are observed maintaining a distance closer than a three-second interval behind a vehicle ahead, you will be subject to citation, penalties, and loss of your driving privilege. Severity of these sanctions is determined on a sliding scale based on the weight of the offending vehicle.THREE SECONDS of spacing, at a minimum, and of course more is better. It's that simple, and it is the foremost comprehensively effective response we can make to America's dangerous traffic problem. Three or more seconds of distance also paves the way toward reducing our demand for foreign sources of energy.
As we make it a national imperative for our millions of motor vehicles to be operated in a safe and efficient manner, the beneficial effects will reach farther than most of us can imagine. Besides immediate reduction in our highway death toll, improved dynamics of traffic flow is the major side effect that enables us to consume less of the costly and limited resources which in large part come to us from overseas. By contrast, what we CAN obtain in cheap and almost limitless supply from overseas is KNOWLEDGE. By taking a strong cue from our European neighbors, where their advanced "Ecodriving" approach has already been widely accepted and integrated into education and lifestyle, our skills will rapidly improve and help to eliminate many of our familiar traffic problem spots -- without requiring expensive infrastructure changes and upgrades. Fewer mornings jammed up behind crash scenes mean more productivity for America, and we are going to build that together.
As incredible as it sounds, simple distance between vehicles is the major key to making it all happen, and that's where we will begin.
Tonight, the United States declares war on the tailgating and other aggressive road behavior that is killing us, and the main weapon in the arsenal is common courtesy. Here is America's new victory sign:
Three fingers, three seconds. Fifty years ago, this kind of simple symbolism to rally around would have made Winston Churchill proud. Today, it is how millions of drivers will break through the isolation boundary of their own vehicles with a clear and unique message, reminding one another to respect and maintain the safe cushions of distance. This is the first step toward how America will take her highways back and assure safe and stress-free roadway travel for everyone, and how her citizens can help look out for each other in this time of transition. Cooperation, not competition. This is how our people will drive toward true progress. This is not asking for any significant sacrifice; it is simply asking for common sense.
We call upon the states and municipalities to utilize the latest advances in video and digital imaging technology in support of making this happen, and to authorize issuance of citations without requiring the disruption and risk of traditional traffic stops. In other words, for those who choose to ignore what has begun this evening, or may be tempted to subtract two fingers as their response, you're on candid camera. America will quickly learn that we are serious about this.
We call upon the states, municipalities, and industry to educate the public and bring about clear understanding of this new patriotism. Driver training and awareness campaigns will help everyone understand what they can and must do. It is easy to believe that entrenched habits will allow the early stages of these projects to be self-funding. On that point, I challenge all Americans to prove me wrong. We will call upon the media and the major information sources on the Internet to bring this message to the viewers as quickly and effectively as possible.
We need to do this on our own, as a people, and as a country, to save lives and to save energy resources. The direct benefits of safe vehicle following distance are already time-proven, and the indirect benefits stemming from improved safety on our roads are too numerous to list here. But when our auto buyers go shopping on the basis of how many airbags a car has, you know that something has become profoundly wrong with the system. Now, you have the blueprint for fixing it.
Three seconds behind, and a world of difference.
This is how America is going to "git 'r done". It is the first step toward higher standards of transportation safety and confidence, which is something our country has always taken great pride in. Now we have one more sector to take care of. And we can do it.