Floridians, particularly those in the Tampa Bay area, have heard a lot
about Governor Rick Scott’s rejection of federal money for a bullet
train between Orlando and Tampa. Scott cited the potential cost to Florida
in rejecting the money. His opponents, on the other hand, have said the
death of the project will prevent jobs from being created in the local economy.
What almost never gets mentioned in public transportation debates like
this one is safety. In fact, I haven’t heard one word about this
subject in the entire bullet train discussion. But as a lawyer who regularly
see the cost of car accidents in death, injury, and property damage, I
think it’s worth considering.
The first point is that motor vehicle travel is dangerous compared to other
forms of transportation. In fact, it is the most dangerous thing most
of us do in our daily lives. As I reported in a previous post (see “New
Study Shows Staggering Costs of Car Accidents”), the cost of motor
vehicle accidents in the United States each year is more than $99
billion. The U.S. Supreme Court has lamented “the slaughter on the Highways
of this Nation” which “exceeds the death toll of all our wars.”
Conversely, there is no question that train travel is much safer than travel
by automobile. While comparisons in the United States may not work because
so few Americans ride the rails, comparisons from countries with extensive
train travel are revealing. Great Britain, for example, has a well-developed
and often-used rail network. Train travel there is 25-times safer than
The dangers of driving while texting, intoxicated, or fatigued are well-known.
While people should never do those things while driving, we know some
do. So it’s worth pointing out that those behaviors are not at all
dangerous when one is taking a ride on a train, bus, or other public transport.
Providing a way to move people who would otherwise take unnecessary risks
behind the wheel makes sense. Even if one takes the harsh view that such
people “deserve” to be punished for their misdeeds, innocent
people who might be involved in accidents with them do not.
This is not to say that every proposed form of public transportation should
be funded. Many public transportation projects may not make sense for
economic or other reasons. All I’m suggesting is that the discussion
should go beyond the usual ideological talking points and include safety.
Also, when people are considering cost, they should also think about the
hidden costs of death, disability, and property damage caused by leaving
so many cars on the road.