AAA Chief Reports Highway Accidents Serious Public Health Epidemic During Detroit Economic Club Speech

March 9, 2004

In a speech Monday to the Detroit Economic Club on highway safety policy, Robert Darbelnet, president and CEO of AAA, North
America’s largest organization for motorists, urged the nation to
recognize the epidemic of nearly 43,000 highway deaths each year as a serious public health crisis.

“While traffic fatalities per mile traveled have been reduced somewhat [since 1991], they remain one of the top ten causes of death in America. And, tragically, they remain the number one killer of children and young adults in this country,” Darbelnet said.

By applying the same public health strategy that has reportedly worked successfully to reduce or eliminate polio, smallpox and, more recently, SARS, Darbelnet said the United States could have a significant impact on the number of vehicle crashes each year that claim thousands of lives, injure more than five million people and cost the economy more than $230 billion annually.

But, he cautioned, eradication of this epidemic will require no less than a change of heart on the part of all Americans.

“How do we calculate the loss of a beloved mother, the death of a bright- eyed six year old or the disappearance of a trusted friend we relied on for common sense advice and emotional support?” he asked.

“The simple answer is, ‘We don’t calculate’ this aspect of our losses
because we can’t … In short, we suffer these losses with a sense of fatalism we accept nowhere else in modern life.”

That, he said, must change.

Darbelnet went on to praise the World Health Organization for selecting the theme of “Safe Roads” for World Health Day 2004 next month in response to the growing number of traffic deaths worldwide.

He announced AAA and the Pan American Health Organization, WHO’s designated representative in the Western Hemisphere, will work together to promote seat belt usage among the fast-growing Latino community in the United States.

“On the eve of World Health Day, we will announce the results of important research examining seat belt use among Latinos,” he said.

“Tragically, motor vehicles kill more Latinos aged one to 44 than any other cause. Increasing seat belt usage for this group could make a big difference,” Darbelnet noted.

At the conclusion of his remarks, Darbelnet called for increased
cooperation between leading highway safety organizations, such as AAA, and the public health community.

“We in the highway safety community must develop collaborative
relationships with public health officials in this country and abroad. We must work closely with them to develop new and better ways to address the epidemic loss of life on our highways.”

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