IBJOpinion

MARCUS: No statistics on death by pothole

Morton Marcus
April 9, 2011
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Morton Marcus

Nothing stirs the imagination like a near-death experience. Last Saturday, I am driving north out of Columbus on Interstate 65. I am obediently in the right-hand lane at 70 mph. On my left is a sport-utility vehicle passing me slowly. Suddenly, a blue car is passing to the left of the SUV. There is no third lane and only a minor shoulder on the left.

The SUV driver avoids being rammed by pulling sharply in front of me. Now, with a vehicle directly in front of me, I look into the rearview mirror to check on the tractor-trailer right behind me. 

I pull sharply to the right onto the right shoulder before pulling just as sharply left, straddling the rumble strip. The SUV does the same and then eases back into the travel lane. I also return to the travel lane. The blue car is far ahead of us. No physical damage. No deaths.

This outcome is not unusual. Automotive and highway engineers design cars and roads to protect us. Each time we drive on a two-lane Hoosier road at 55 mph and see another vehicle traveling toward us at the same speed, we witness the miracle of survival.

Those who drive recklessly are roadway terrorists. They endanger others as they race to some reward or away from some punishment. They speed through red lights and ignore stop signs. They contributed to 43,000 American highway deaths last year.

Yet we must wonder how many of those deaths are caused by potholes and our fellow citizens who believe virtue lies in cutting government spending by cutting taxes.

Thus far this year, I have replaced three tires destroyed by Indiana potholes. What other damage have potholes caused? There are no records kept of accidents resulting from swerving to avoid a pothole. Damage to the steering mechanism is not obvious, and a pothole may cause a death many miles from its location.

There are streets in my town I no longer drive on. I avoid certain direct routes because of horrendous road conditions. I will not accept, however, the excuses of my mayor that this was a bad winter.

No. The problem is that politicians insist on ignoring our roles as citizens and thinking of us only as taxpayers. It is not the cold of winter that withholds funds from fixing the streets. It is the cold in the hearts of too many voters who deny our communal responsibilities.

We live or die because others are careful or reckless. The tragedy is that a growing number of Americans, including many Hoosiers, believe we are or should be independent of one another. The result is that elected officials pander to this view and do not act responsibly.

When government cuts services to the disabled and ignores potholes, it claims insufficient revenue. But why is revenue insufficient? The blame rests on those who will not support the primary functions of government with higher taxes at the expense of less consumer spending. Instead, they focus on an agenda to appease the radical fringe passionate about abortion and gay marriage.

Killing people with potholes is not a sin to these enemies of liberty. Destroying the lives of afflicted families by withholding assistance is not a social virtue. How do we rouse our fellow citizens to understand the linkages of modern life and the need to be our brother’s keeper?•

__________

Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mmarcus@ibj.com.

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