A few years ago, one of us came across a young woman who had just been hit by a car. She was the mother of two young children and one of Atlanta’s star runners. I found her unconscious and bleeding profusely from a severe head injury. She died in my arms while I tried to resuscitate her.
Her death was tragic, but it wasn’t “senseless.” In scientific terms, it was explicable. The runner, who had competed in 15 marathons and broken many records, wore no lights or reflective vest in the early-morning darkness; she crossed the street within crosswalk lines that had faded to near-invisibility; there were no speed bumps on this wide, flat street to slow cars down.
Scientists don’t view traffic injuries as “senseless” or “accidental” but as events susceptible to understanding and prevention. Urban planners, elected officials and highway engineers approach such injuries by asking four questions: What is the problem? What are the causes? Have effective interventions been discovered? Can we install these interventions in our community?