I think sometimes we misplace our priorities in this country. Let me give you an example. SARS, the virus that apparently began in China and now has spread worldwide, has captured more headlines lately than any other item in the news. Anyone who has a flu-like symptom is greeted with caution because we know so little of this new virus and the potential for widespread health concerns is so frightening. Thus far, SARS has claimed less than 1,000 lives but will soon attract literally billions of dollars in medical research and taxpayer funding.
At the same time, a new report this week says that cell phone use by inexperienced drivers claims an estimated 2,600 lives annually with the figure increasing year in and year out.
OK, so here are two completely different issues. But one is fairly easy to solve. And that would be the issue of allowing inexperienced drivers access to cell phones while driving a vehicle. If a simple change in the law could save 2,600 lives, why wouldn't we consider it?
My parallel may not be valid. SARS may eventually claim millions of lives. But I too well remember the swine flu epidemic from 30 years ago and the amount of money and time devoted to a threat that never materialized. I'm not saying that SARS will run the same course, but we place our priorities where the headlines are regardless of the true impact or the eventual costs.
A new Harvard study shows that one in 20 vehicle accidents is caused by inattention resulting from cell phone usage while driving. That's not as alarming as drunk driving. Not yet. But as cell phones become commonplace, the rates will increase. At this pace those deaths will soon top 3,000 annually with no end in sight.
Now SARS on the other hand is indeed a scary proposition. But do we have our priorities in the right place when we spend billions to research the potential harm and cure for SARS and at the same time ignore information that could save as many lives if not more? Maybe I'm just missing something.
There will always be some aspects of life that are simply beyond our control. That much is a given. But why we ignore those aspects that we can change is both frustrating and puzzling.
Whether these two issues are in any manner related is beside the point. It just seems prudent and logical to address those life-threatening issues that are easily addressed first. I could well be wrong but I'd bet that the chances in your lifetime of contracting SARS are much less than the chances of you being in a mishap that involved an inattentive driver using a cell phone.
So why don't we put our money and our action where the chances of success are greater?