By Mark Holan, editorial director, ARTBA

A July 21 headline in The Washington Post declared: “More Americans have died in car crashes since 2000 than in both World Wars.” The story noted that 535,000 American military personnel died in the two 20th century wars, compared to 624,000 people killed in car crashes since January 2000.

More than 30 million people have been injured in those collisions, which are largely attributed to speeding, driving while intoxicated, or distracted by cell phones.

“Where’s the social outrage? There should be social outrage,” the story quoted Robert L. Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Some Post readers noted that crash fatalities per 100,000 population and 100 million vehicle miles traveled have declined. The annual fatality rate for the six years of the two wars is much higher than the rate for nearly 20 years of traffic data.

In April, ARTBA called for a shift in how the nation approaches roadway safety. Rather than the usual federal focus on reducing the number of crashes by improving motorists’ behavior, ARTBA believes the premise must be turned around to accept the fact that some drivers will inevitably make mistakes.

“On all major routes—and others to the extent practicable—the U.S. roadway system must anticipate user error and be designed, constructed, equipped and operated to forgive the errant user and protect the innocent worker, pedestrian, cyclist or other driver,” the association said in written testimony to the U.S. House Highways and Transit subcommittee.

While we cannot control what choices drivers make when the get behind the wheel, we can control the design and function of the road to reduce the costs of such human errors.