The Motor Menace
OF all causes of accidental fatalities, automobile ‘accidents’ rank first. According to figures published last fall and widely quoted, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company estimated a total of 83,772 accidental deaths in the United States in 1923. Automobiles were responsible for 15,714, accidental falls for 15,382, railroad accidents for 8078, and all other causes for considerably below these figures. Recent estimates put the motor fatalities of 1924 at 19,000 dead and 450,000 injured. Of the dead 5700 were children. From the rate of increase, it is likely that 1925 will see some 20,000 persons killed by automobiles — their own or others.
Nor does the last figure include some 2000 deaths and fatal in juries at steamrailroad crossings, for the majority of which — as the records indicate — automobile-drivers themselves will be to blame. So deeply is the habit of chance-taking ingrained that not even the menace of an approaching train can check it!
Compared to population, the motor death-rate has increased from one per 100,000 in 1910 to probably eighteen in 1925. There will be somewhere near a million accidents all told — major and minor — in the United States this year. Not less than 500,000 persons will be injured (the Hoover Conference estimated 678,000 in 1923). And the property damage is anyone’s guess: estimates range from $100,000,000 to several times that sum.
There are two bright spots in the picture. First, the death and accident ratios to number of cars (not population) have steadily decreased. Fourteen years ago, the death-rate was 3.3 per 1000 cars; but there were only 600,000 cars then in use. This year, with 18,000,000 cars and trucks registered, and with traffic congestion far worse, the death-rate will be about one per 1000 cars.
The second bright spot is the aroused state of the public mind. Clearly, motor-drivers as a class are growing more careful, not less. But, clearly also, there are far too many deaths; and the universal cry for a remedy is more than justified.
This demand does not stop with penalties for recklessness. It observes that far too often persons injured by automobiles, through no fault of their own, are deprived of redress, because the car-owner has neither liability insurance nor property. Financial irresponsibility has become one of the major problems of the automobile.
A dozen years ago, when motorists were few, ownership implied both skill and earning power, usually with the responsibility that those qualities bring. It was not hard, then, to avoid one’s neighbors on the road.
To-day cars are priced anywhere to 50 per cent below 1913 figures. The skill they require is negligible. Used cars are a drug on the market. Any young fellow may purchase an old high-power car for a few weeks’ earnings, and ‘burn up the road.’ And the traffic congestion in and near all our large cities is almost beyond belief.
Instead of money and a taste lor mechanics, the greatest need of the owner to-day is for the social feeling that accords courtesy and lair play to one’s neighbors on the road. It is the lack of this quality, among a minority of the newer class of motorists, that accounts for most of the avoidable accidents.
Before going further let us note that by no means all motor accidents are the motorists’ fault. Complete statistics on this subject are sadly lacking; but such as are available tend to show that automobilists are little more to blame for accidents than are pedestrians and horse-drivers, and many accidents to children could not be prevented by any care on the driver’s part.
Traffic density is itself an important cause of accidents. If a driver must avoid fifty vehicles or pedestrians in traveling a mile, he is fifty times as likely to hit something as if he meets only one. The ratio of car registrations to mileage of improved roads has multiplied probably at least five times in the last ten years. That is gradually being changed; and the funds that many States are raising by gasoline taxes could not be better spent than on improving more roads and thereby diluting traffic. But it will take years to ameliorate the situation very markedly. Meanwhile we must deal with things as they are.
The general subject of accidentprevention may be approached from lour angles: —
1. Carelessness of other road-users.
2. Traffic hazards and highway engineering.
9. Policing and criminal penalties.
4. The driver’s own mind.
Doubtless the most exhaustive discussions of accident-prevention have been a three-day conference at New Haven, April 9 to 11, 1924, under the joint auspices of Yale University and the State of Connecticut, and Secretary Hoover’s National Conference on Street and Highway Safety, at Washington, December 15 and 16, 1924. These conferences delved with especial thoroughness into phases 1, 2, and 3 above. They made also some effort to deal with phase 4, — the psychological aspect, — but chiefly with the thought of educating the driver by degrees to a sense of his responsibility.
As this paper deals mainly with the reckless driver, phase 1 above-mentioned cannot be given the space it deserves. But no study of motor accidents would be complete without mention of the reckless public. A comparison of all available figures leads to the conclusion that human heedlessness is much the same, in or out of a car. Nearly one half of all pedestrian injuries are chiefly the fault of the person hit. Jaywalkers cross the street with noses buried in newspapers; impatient shoppers buck the traffic signals; children dart into the street with minds intent only on their games; factory workers and country folk amble over the roadway, oblivious of vehicles and calmly relying on their equal rights before the law.
If you ask for a remedy, I can only suggest that the custom which made the common law is likely sooner or later to change it. Vehicles have no rights on sidewalks and paths; pedestrians who are injured in the roadway should be required to show that they were not obstructing traffic, in order to have a legal claim. For children, playgrounds in cities have become imperative.
Taking now the second subject, traffic conditions, we observe that modern highway engineering aims at making the roads handle maximum traffic. This calls for speed with safety. A narrow, rough, or steeply crowned road is dangerous at all points; therefore the modern concrete road is at least eighteen feet wide, — twenty is much better, — and crowned just enough for drainage. But, in any road, intersections and turns are danger points, which cut down capacity and contribute to accidents. So the aim is to provide wide, plainly marked intersections, with clear vision across them wherever possible; and wide, easy bends, banked for the expected speed. Wide roads reduce collision risks. Roads wide enough — forty feet or more — to permit four lanes of travel are increasingly needed near large cities. Side spaces for tirechanging and so forth are essential if the road’s full capacity is to be utilized. All signs should be visible by the light of head-lamps. Rural turns should be marked dead ahead — if not by fences or billboards, then by some standard danger-signal.
Danger points should be plainly marked by standard signs, and no signs liable to confuse the driver should be permitted. A uniform colorscheme for both signs and traffic signals is recommended by the Hoover Conference: red for ‘Stop,’ green for ‘Proceed,’ yellow for ‘Caution’ — with a rule that those colors should not be used for any other signs.
New England is painting warnings of railroad crossings and so forth on the concrete road surface itself, where the headlights cannot miss them, and other states are taking up the idea. Mountain roads are guarded, on the outside of turns, by strong steel cables. Posts and fences, bridges, culverts, and other objects are painted white for visibility at night.
By-pass roads, enabling through tourists to avoid the congested districts of cities, are a reality in a few places, and are planned in many others. Segregation of fast and slow traffic on certain main highways is a possibility of the near future, to be effected either by making separate inner and outer lanes, like a four-track railway, or by prohibiting slow vehicles from using certain roads. It is evident that two-lane roads on which both slow and fast vehicles travel cannot be used to anything like their capacity.
In cities, traffic congestion can be eased by zoning, improved pavements, and other devices. But there is no real cure except to limit the ‘vertical’ growth which brings thousands of shoppers and office workers into streets meant for hundreds.
Third among ‘angles of approach’ come policing and criminal penalties. As these are intended to be deterrent, they cannot really be separated from the fourth ‘angle’ — the driver’s own mind. But policing implies external compulsion to do a thing in itself unwelcome. It is sometimes wisely used; but it sometimes results in arrests and fines for merely technical infractions. Drivers on much-patrolled roads get into the habit, not of protecting other road-users, but of merely avoiding arrest. Too much policing tends to weaken, rather than increase, the motorist’s sense of responsibility.
In cities, fines for traffic-law violations are necessary. But elsewhere penalties for speeding, not blowing horns, and so forth, are liable to be merely vexatious. Most car-owners have a decent regard for other people; they will often wreck their own cars to avoid striking someone. What is needed is to inspire the thoughtless few with the same desire — if not out of regard for others, then out of regard for themselves.
This would be accomplished if every culpable accident carried with it, automatically, a suitable and sufficient penalty. And that penalty should not be one arbitrary thing — it should be suited to the owner’s condition and mental type.
The solid business or professional man is seldom a trouble-maker. As his time is valuable, he is likely to drive fast when the way is open; but his sense of responsibility keeps him from knowingly taking chances. As he has property, he can be sued; and even with liability insurance he hates the thought of appearing in court. As for jail or suspension, he tries to avoid giving even a pretext for such penalties.
The new-rich owner, made arrogant by success, and the spoiled sons and daughters of rich parents, are another matter. They have property, but without responsibility. As they are thoughtless and selfish rather than willfully criminal, it is difficult to suppose that jail terms will ever be meted out to them save for really serious offenses. The best way to treat them is to take them off the road for a sufficient term. That, by the way, cannot be done merely by revoking a pocket license-card. The car itself must be impounded, — at the owner’s expense, — the license plates removed, and the police notified to arrest the owner if he is found using another car. It may even be necessary to check up on the police, owing to local ‘pulls.’
However, these measures will not often be needed, for the owner with property is not our biggest problem. Indeed, the small home-owner with a family is considered by the insurance companies their very best risk. It is the happy-go-lucky chap with no property except his car — itself perhaps not yet paid for — who is our main problem. His car means a lot to him and his wife and children, — fresh air and sunshine and green fields, — most of the things that make life worth living. Nobody has ever taught him to feel very much obligation toward strangers. What wonder that he goes out for a good time, and lets the other fellow shift for himself!
Criminal penalties seldom bulk large in the thoughts of these owners. They have little imagination; they are not conscious of criminal intent; their minds are merely centred on themselves. The idea that they are wronging the public by driving a potentially dangerous vehicle, with no means of making good any injury they may cause, hardly enters their thoughts.
Here, then, we face the fourth aspect of our problem. How may a desire to protect the public be inspired in the minds of these irresponsible drivers?
Bear in mind that one half of all carowners have incomes of less than $2000 a year, and that one quarter earn less than $1500. If you have the misfortune to be hit by one of these knights of the road, what chance have you of getting him to pay even for the flowers ?
The difficulty of the problem lies in its very humanness. The tonic effect of rapid motion and changing scenes is beyond dispute; and no class benefits more by it than those whose ‘ lizzies, ‘ ‘road lice,’ and battered ex-‘kings of the road ‘ swarm the boulevards every Sunday and holiday. But there are too many among them whose natural selfishness or mental limitations make them public menaces.
Such are the persons who regard the rides of the road as meant for others, not for themselves; who do the wrong thing in a crisis; who see no harm in a drink — or several drinks — before starting; who enjoy taking chances with traffic; who hold that, because their own defective headlights have ‘never bothered them,’ other drivers may do the worrying.
Less than 20 per cent of all carowners carry liability insurance; and even in cities of over 100,000 population, where the hazard is greatest, only about 40 per cent are insured. The majority of the uninsured urban owners are probably judgment-proof; and no insurance company wants them as risks, for they would regard insurance as an added license for recklessness.
Said a well-known educator to me recently: ‘Four of my own friends have been crippled for life by being hit by automobiles. The last fellow actually laughed when my friend told him he ought to pay for the damage he had done. “I have no money,” he said, “I am not insured. You can’t touch me!'”
Not long ago a Philadelphia architect, whose work had been of priceless value to his community, was fatally crushed in a collision with another car. The woman who drove the latter may not have been to blame; but she had no assets, and the car itself was not paid for.
Lately — also in Philadelphia — two women walking home were struck by a car running rapidly with defective headlights. One was killed, the other badly hurt. The owner, a youth, tried to get away unidentified, but was held by a passer-by. In court he said he had just bought the car for $47.
Everyone knows of similar tragedies. Not all are due to wanton recklessness, but the victim’s utter lack of recourse is far too common.
In short, it seems impossible to discuss accident-prevention and compensation separately. Even if we tried to do so, we could not ignore the present temper of the public, which has caused, as these lines are written, some sixty bills to be presented to the legislatures of twenty-seven States — all aiming to give financial recourse to victims of motor accidents.
Compulsory liability-insurance was first proposed in this country about six years ago. Certain cantons in Switzerland have required it for periods up to twelve years, and a national law is reported likely to be passed there. For Switzerland, at any rate, the system cannot be called a failure.
But it is feared in this country — with seemingly much reason — that the assetless, selfish owner who makes most of the trouble will abuse the privilege of insurance. He will have two conflicting thoughts in the back of his mind: the Iaw may ‘get’ him, but his insurance will protect him. And these two thoughts will subtly contend for mastery while his driving-habits are being formed. What he will do in the swift unconscious reactions of a crisis will depend on the habits already formed, and possibly on which thought is uppermost at the moment. He may — as we have seen — even be so hardened by lucky chance-taking as to race trains for crossings.
It is easy to understand the apprehension of the insurance companies that compulsory insurance will bring more accidents instead of fewer, with a consequent need for raising premiums to an unknown extent. And if it be urged that the companies will be expected to refuse to insure bad risks, thereby forcing them off the road, the reply is that, in effect, to do so would make them assume a judicial function which the public would not tolerate. Rejected applicants would raise a cry of discrimination, political attacks on the companies and on the Motor Vehicle Department would follow; and a demand for State insurance, with all its possibilities of inefficiency and waste, would be the logical result. On the other hand, accepting bad risks and charging higher premiums to make up the losses would lead to protests and the same final result State insurance. A pleasant dilemma!
Incidentally, the demand for compulsory insurance comes chiefly from the cities, and there seems a real injustice in compelling rural owners even at rural rates of premium — to contribute to relieve a situation which they have done nothing to create. It should at least be possible for a responsible owner to establish his responsibility without paying for insurance which does not benefit him.
An eminent insurance-lawyer of Boston, Edward C. Stone, has proposed to accomplish this by a law which would, in effect, say to the automobile owner: —
‘ You may take out liability insurance or not, as you please. But if you do not, and are unable to meet a judgment for any accident in which you are found at fault, your license will be immediately canceled. And, even if you do meet the judgment, the proceedings will be reported to the Motor Vehicle Commissioner, who may suspend or cancel your license if in his opinion you deserve that penalty.’
The merit of this plan lies in the assumption that there are many careful and at least morally responsible owners who do not feel the need of insurance, and whom it would be unfair to tax (in effect) for someone else’s fault. Rural and small-town motorists, especially, would come under this head. Certainly they are mostly responsible property-owners, and live where traffic hazards are least. The Stone plan is worth trying.
But even the Stone plan differs from straight compulsory insurance chiefly in the number of policyholders involved. In one form or another, it seems wholly likely that what amounts to compulsory insurance will be enacted into law, in one or several States, within a year or two. It will be done on the principles: (a) that road-users injured without their own fault should not be deprived of compensation when the car-owner has no property; and (b) that the benefits of automobiling are so great that, society will do better to bear the losses of such culpable accidents as cannot be prevented, rather than bar large classes of owmers from the road because of their having no property.
So the problem becomes, not to fight compulsory insurance, but to find a way to make it work so well that there will be neither complaints from owners not benefited nor a demand for State insurance. And that, of course, means effective prevention of recklessness. The naturally thoughtless or selfish owner must have a motive for carefulness, regardless of insurance.
‘Every accident,’ it has been truly said by Motor Vehicle Commissioner Stoeckel, of Connecticut, ‘has its origin in a wrong act of mind.’ To this we might well add that most accidents for which the driver is responsible result from a wrong attitude of mind. Assuming that he is mentally competent to operate a motor vehicle in traffic, it is safe to say that a sincere desire to protect the public would eliminate very many of the so-called ‘accidents.’
As already mentioned, policing and fines have a limited value with the thoughtless owner, but chiefly to prompt him to avoid arrest. Jail sentences are more effective. But both judges and juries are still too lenient with intoxication and similar offenses, especially with drunken drivers lucky enough to be arrested before they have hit something; and the irresponsible driver usually figures that he can ‘get. away with it.’
New Jersey deals with the drunken driver more effectively than most States. A minimum jail-sentence of thirty days is mandatory for the first offense, and the maximum is one year for the first offense and five years for subsequent offenses. According to Motor Vehicle Commissioner William L. Dill, of that State, there are few second offenses where the first offense is strictly dealt with; but often the first offender can persuade the magistrate to reduce the charge from intoxication to speeding or reckless driving — and those are the ones who go and sin some more.
‘Only the other day, ‘ said Mr. Dill to me, ‘I talked with a magistrate whose boy now lies in a Trenton hospital with a broken back, the victim of a drunken driver. He said to me, “I have sentenced hundreds of car-drivers for intoxication, and every time I did so I felt profoundly sorry for the man I sentenced. But I shall never feel sorry for them again!”’
When local magistrates everywhere realize their responsibility, thinks Mr. Dill, the drunken driver will cease to be a problem.
Suspension and revocation of license — together with impounding of the car — are penalties which the Motor Vehicle Department can apply, regardless of the local courts. Here again the fear of suspension is not likely to worry the wage-earning owner very much. It may even mean a chance to save money! But at any rate it will take him off the road, for a time or permanently. If he is definitely unfit to drive, — if he is addicted to liquor, if his nervous reactions are slow, if he loses his head in a crisis or runs away after an accident, — he can be banished from the road for good, once his tendencies become clear.
However, those drivers who are either vicious or mentally unfit are few compared with those who are merely thoughtless. These latter, at least, can be taught care. And the prospect of suspension, not merely for actual criminality, but for carelessness, will undoubtedly influence them if it be ‘ rubbed in ‘ often enough.
Right here compulsory insurance opens a possibility. Most of these thoughtless owners are now untouched by any restraining influence save the sight of an occasional policeman. But if every owner becomes a policyholder, with merely nominal agency-expense to the insurance companies, the latter will be able to spend something to educate him. A monthly or quarterly leaflet on the motorist’s duty to the public, on the usefulness of keeping brakes and steering gear in order, and on the dire and certain penalties of carelessness, is bound to have effect. There is great value in repetition!
To be successful, this plan requires a close and constant check-up of the record of every owner. Every arrest, every settlement by the insurance companies, every proceeding both criminal and civil, should be reported to the Motor Vehicle Department, there to be card-indexed for inspection by the insurance companies, and for action by the Commissioner if needed. And every sentence for intoxication or other aggravated offense should be reported to the insurer. For the companies should still be free to reject or cancel policies, although looking, in most cases, to the courts and the Motor Vehicle Department to deal with offenders.
An incidental but important need is for traffic courts, handling nothing but motor-vehicle-law violations. These, especially if supervised somewhat by the State, will render much more uniform decisions than purely local courts, each a law unto itself, could do. They are strongly urged by the Hoover Conference. Judges, also, would render fairer civil verdicts than juries.
To sum up: fines, jail, suspension and impounding, and, finally, permanent revocation of license, are the means thus far discussed for restraining the naturally irresponsible drivers, especially the warped, selfish minds that think only of their own pleasure, and to whom the law is merely a restraint to be fought or evaded. There remains the question whether they will be effective.
The plain truth is that few students of the problem think that they will. The Hoover Conference recommended free application of those penalties, and they are urged by Motor Vehicle Administrators, but it seems to be mainly in the nature of a pious hope, for lack of something better. Long jail-terms make hardened criminals; they would do more harm than good where criminal intent was lacking. Even manslaughter, unless due to intoxication, is not likely to bring long terms. The youth above mentioned, who killed a woman with his fortyseven-dollar car, got only nine months in jail, plus revocation of license.
Are we, then, to conclude that the task of educating the thoughtless and selfish is after all hopeless? Is there no penalty that will appeal sufficiently to their imagination and self-interest to overcome the lure of chance-taking? Is nothing left save to take them off the road or to await the slow process of self-education? If so, the task of regulation is beset with difficulties. And the prospect of enforcing financial responsibility is certainly not encouraging.
An ingenious suggestion from a Connecticut insurance man deserves mention at this point. Mark the offender who has been found guilty of negligence, he proposes. Require him to turn in his license plates, and to receive a new number, with plates of a color — red — reserved for the special purpose. Brand the careless driver in the eyes of the world.
This would certainly work with some; but it would be least effective with the thick-skinned individuals who most need restraint. Moreover, paint is not hard to get. A plan of more general force is needed.
I must now talk in the first person. There is a workable plan, I am convinced. While it is here put forth on my own responsibility, it is favored by at least one well-known Motor Vehicle Administrator, who hit on it independently, and who sees in it a means whereby the thoughtless or selfish owner may be induced to prefer careful driving of his own will and choice, rather than under the threat of police power. Further, it has actually been tried on a small scale abroad, and is reported to work well.
And what is it? In essence, it is simply the common-sense plan of requiring owners whose records show a tendency to recklessness to assume a fair share of financial responsibility out of their own personal pockets.
You’ve seen boys playing ball in a vacant lot. The chance of a birching if windows are broken does n’t scare them. Neither does the prospect of being chased off the lot. But tell those boys that they must pay for breakage, and they become careful instanter! Tanning a la birch is not permanent, and there arc other vacant lots; but lost dimes mean sundry marbles and ice-cream cones gone forever.
In the canton of Vaud, Switzerland, containing the city of Lausanne, the law requires that the owner shall personally bear the first 10 per cent of any judgment up to the specified limit, and shall insure the rest. Accidents blamable on motorists are not numerous in Vaud!
Suppose that Nick Belloni, who has shown a disposition to think himself above the law, were informed that to retain his license he must deposit with the insurance company a sum equal, let us say, to three months’ pay, for 5 per cent of any judgment up to the $10,000 maximum — said deposit to be available also to other creditors if the State constitution so required.
Can’t you picture Nick’s sudden interest in the welfare of the other fellow? At one stroke we have accomplished the three things most desirable in any plan of preventionplus-compensation: —
1. Made Nick want to avoid trouble.
2. Compensated his victim, if any.
3. Put as much of the cost as possible on Nick’s own shoulders,, where it generally belongs.
Space forbids a detailed discussion here of ‘owner coinsurance.’ But psychologically — for the irresponsible chap of small means — the principle is unassailable. It is the general rule today where fire and theft are concerned, not only in regard to automobiles, but in regard to all property; the owner is never allowed to insure for the full value. I am told it applies to marine cargoes where the record of losses is unfavorable. And, in effect, it applies to workmen’s compensation insurance. Why should n’t it be applied to a thing so full of temptations as auto-driving?
The problem, of course, is to apply the principle to the near-assetless class of trouble-makers. Let us see how the plan would work in the case of Nick.
On applying for a license, Nick passes an examination for physical fitness, ability to read English, and knowledge of the motor-vehicle law of his own State. He knows what the carburetor is for and how to adjust the brakes. He passes the driver’s test.
Next the financial-responsibility law is explained to him. He can either deposit $10,000, cash or collateral, with the Motor Vehicle Department, or take out insurance. Incredible sum! He protests violently. He, Nick Belloni, is a poor man, and insurance men are robbers! However, he has already heard of the law, and in the end he grudgingly pays his premium.
With the policy Nick gets a leaflet, which the insurance man is careful to see that he can read and does read. From it Nick learns that if he is arrested and fined, or even let off with a warning, the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles will know about it the very next day, and that the fact will be engraved, as on the Book of Judgment, on a record-card bearing Nick’s name. Further, if he hits anyone, awheel or afoot, he must report all the circumstances to the Commissioner forthwith, for entry on that same card. If he does n’t, the Commissioner will learn it anyway, and Nick will pay a fine for failing to report.
Still further, the leaflet informs Nick that if the record on his card becomes too black the Commissioner will notify the insurance company to cancel Nick’s policy within ten days. Unless he takes out a new policy within that time, his license also will be canceled, and a policeman will call and take away his card and numberplates. His career as an automobileowner will be ended.
But to get that new policy he must deposit $500 with the insurance company. Yes, a mortgage on his house will do, or his savings-bank pass-book if it shows $500 or more on deposit. That sum will be used to meet 5 per cent of any damage claim up to the $10,000 limit; and if any of it is paid out Nick must replace it immediately or lose both policy and license. Further, Nick must settle all claims up to $25, and the first $25 of larger claims, out of his own pocket.
‘But, blood of the saints!’ sputters Nick. ‘ What if some drunken fool stumbles in front of me, and I can’t stop? ‘
‘The insurance companies know the best way to handle such things, ‘ he is told. ‘Generally it is better to settle out of court: juries have a way of awarding money to the fellow who is hit, even if he was drunk or careless. In fact, the insurance company has so much more at stake than you that the law gives us the right to decide whether to settle or defend suit, if the amount involved exceeds $50. But the best way not to lose money is to hit no one.
So this is the way it feels to have money! One is exposed to suit by every loafer in the street — by the father of every child chasing a ball! Nick’s rage cools after a time, however, and he realizes that the insurance man’s advice was sound. The best way to keep his rainy-day fund intact is to keep that card in the Commissioner’s office clean. After all, he is assured, it is most often the motorist who is at fault.
If Nick, being human, is inclined to forget, the insurance company is not. Monthly or quarterly the postman brings a bulletin, embellished with photographs of cars driven not wisely but too fast, and containing a little sermon about that $500 and how easily it can all be lost.
If Nick is a reckless young bachelor — as is most likely — that money means the wherewithal to keep his car. If he has a family, it means the rent if work should be slack. It means next winter’s coal, or shoes for the bambini. Every time he is tempted to overtake another driver on a curve, or to hog the right of way, his $500 rises before his mind. Before the dangerous lure of speed can snare his weak will, Nick has become a careful driver. And it has been done without a single arrest, and with no especial policing, simply by insisting on the principle that responsibility is personal. Nick never forms the habit of chance-taking that leads to grade-crossing wrecks. Withal, the other drivers whom Nick meets on the road are as careful as he.
It is not claimed that the insurance men favor the Swiss idea. For one thing, to them ‘ insurance is protection,’ and this is decidedly something else. But, beyond that, they fear the spectre of State insurance so sincerely that it is hard for them to show enthusiasm even over a method of reducing losses, if that method involves compulsion to pay for insurance. It is such a short step further to argue that if the State compels insurance it should furnish coverage at ‘cost’!
No one can blame the insurance men for feeling thus. If the public decides, nevertheless, to compel insurance, it should be with a clear resolve to keep government and polit ics out of business. Nobody believes that State insurance would in reality be cheaper than private insurance, once the selling expenses were reduced by making the latter compulsory. And State insurance at a loss — to be covered by taxes — should not be tolerated.
But financial responsibility is a crying need. And owner coinsurance, replacing the endless effort to legislate people into being good by a simple, automatic incentive, might be the one thing most needed to make compulsory insurance fair to the insurance companies and a benefit to the public.
Admittedly, the formula for applying the coinsurance principle will not be simple. Questions of constitutionality will have to be settled. Details will have to be adjusted to local needs. The motor trade will not welcome the idea. But a diminishing death-roll seems certain to result; and, beside that, special interests count for little.