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The sobering reality: We must get off this road of destruction

We can choose to not take our eyes off the road for any reason. To slow down and not be aggressive. Because it is this behavior that is killing us.Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock / Andrey_Popov

It’s easy to dismiss statistics. Statistics are numbers. Not people.

But the numbers are jaw dropping.

An estimated 42,915 people around the country died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2021, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That’s nearly 43,000 ordinary people driving to work or home, to school, to a store, to a friend’s.

Think about this: In the nearly 20 years the United States was fighting in Vietnam, fewer Americans were killed in action (40,934) than were killed on our roads last year.

To be clear, the National Archives cites a total of 58,220 military fatal casualties of the Vietnam War. But this number includes those Americans who died not in combat, but in accidents or later from wounds, illness, or suicide.


There are few statistics for the numbers of people who die years after an automobile accident or who are left permanently impaired because they or someone else drank and drove or got high and drove, or was texting while driving, or shaving while driving (I have seen this) or reaching for something. Or speeding. Or simply not paying attention.

Back in the 1990s, I received an award from Mothers Against Drunk Driving. It’s the only award in my long lifetime of writing that has ever meant anything to me. I wanted people to understand the consequences of getting behind the wheel impaired. I wanted to change hearts. I wanted to save lives.

So I wrote about drunk drivers and their victims again and again and again. And then one day I couldn’t do it anymore. I could not walk into one more child’s bedroom and see stuffed animals everywhere and football banners and Judy Blume books and dance trophies and sneakers that would never be worn again, and photos, all that was left of a young life.


I was haunted by people I’d never met, a newlywed whose husband survived the impact that killed her; a toddler run over while playing with his babysitter in his yard; a 19-year-old killed while asleep in the backseat of a car, which was rear-ended a few miles from her home.

As individuals, we have control over so little. We can’t stop the war in Ukraine. We can’t change the mindset of the Taliban.

But we can choose, every day, to be responsible drivers. We can choose to not drink and drive, to not drug and drive, to buckle up and not text and not run red lights, or speed, or change lanes without signaling. We can choose to not take our eyes off the road for any reason. To slow down and not be aggressive. Because it is this behavior that is killing us.

Two weeks ago, I was driving home from Boston. It was a Wednesday night at 11 p.m. and I have never been so scared in my life. Not when I hit black ice in Maine a few years ago and missed smashing into the car in front of me by a millimeter. Not 55 years ago when the car in which I was a passenger spun out on the Jamaicaway.

The other night was worse. A Red Sox game had just ended so the Southeast Expressway was busy. But it wasn’t busy that scared me. I am used to crowded highways and aggressive drivers and drivers who do not signal. I am even used to drivers backing up at the Braintree split. But this night was different. It was like a demolition derby. Cars were going 80, 90, 100 miles per hour — speeding AND weaving AND cutting people off.


It was terrifying.

My daughter sent her son off to college last week. She drove him to Virginia. She made it there and back.

But how many people don’t make it there and back?

We rage against war. We call it brutal. This is brutal, too. It takes a long time to grow a human being. Not just the nine months in the womb, but all the rest of the years.

“New vehicles on sale in the U.S. today are the safest and most advanced ever made,” CNBC reported in May. “Yet roadway fatalities last year reached their highest level in 16 years.”

Michael Brooks, acting executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer-advocacy nonprofit, told CNBC that driver behavior appeared to be “the major component” of the increasing fatalities. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t stop it,” Brooks said. “We just have to be willing to.”

We have to slow down and calm down. To not have that extra drink. To not reach for our phone when driving. To pay attention to the road.

We have to be willing to view other drivers not as competitors (and where are we going in such a hurry, anyway?), but as stressed-out human beings with families and jobs and lives and hopes and dreams not much different from our own.


As of June 15, there were 172 deaths on Bay State roads this year, 10 more than at the same point last year, according to a MassDOT spokeswoman. This is our future, more crashes, more deaths, more empty bedrooms, unless we change our behavior.

Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at