What Would You Give Up For Safer Roads? As part of NPR's "On The Road To Safety" series, we'll ask listeners what they'd be willing to do for safer roads. Tell us: Would you pay more taxes for better highways? Ban cell phone use entirely? Take the keys from mom and dad? Change speed limits? Buy different cars?
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What Would You Give Up For Safer Roads?

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What Would You Give Up For Safer Roads?

What Would You Give Up For Safer Roads?

What Would You Give Up For Safer Roads?

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As part of NPR's "On The Road To Safety" series, we'll ask listeners what they'd be willing to do for safer roads. Tell us: Would you pay more taxes for better highways? Ban cell phone use entirely? Take the keys from mom and dad? Change speed limits? Buy different cars?

Marilyn Geewax, senior business editor, NPR
Brian Joyce, state senator from Massachusetts


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

And we begin today with the story of an elderly woman, who lived alone in South Florida, a woman who depended on her car to get around, a woman whose memory was failing. Her niece, Marilyn Geewax, made the difficult decision that she could not, in good conscience, allow her aunt to continue to drive. And Marilyn Geewax joins us here today in Studio 3A. Thanks very much for coming in.

MARILYN GEEWAX: You're welcome.

CONAN: So what convinced you that you had to do something?

GEEWAX: Well, you know, the moment you think about highway safety, you look at statistics and think about the numbers, but when you get down to the reality of it, these are human beings, they're people that you love, teenagers who drive, elderly people who drive. And you have a responsibility, I think, to try to make the roads as safe as possible. And I could see that my aunt was deteriorating, her memory was getting worse, and I didn't want her to be one of those statistics. So, I actually had to go to court and get a legal guardianship and now there is a court-appointed guardian, who was able to help her with her transportation needs, but it was tough.

CONAN: I bet. I'm sure it involved a lot of time and a lot of money, but I'm also sure - did your aunt understand why?

GEEWAX: No. It was very frustrating for her and that's part of the problem with elderly drivers is people's - their judgment becomes impaired and they don't realize what a danger they have become to others. And it's very difficult because these are - you know, whether you're talking about your teenage kids or your parents or whatever, all of these are human relationships and they take a lot in negotiating to try to figure out how to make the roads safer and how to take responsibility for that. It is not easy.

CONAN: Was there one moment in the car when you looked at your aunt and said, oh, my gosh?

GEEWAX: Well, she was driving home from church one time and she ended up hours from her house. She just couldn't figure out how to get home from church anymore and that was the - you know, the danger point that you finally cross. But there's a - this problem is very common and getting more so because baby boomers are starting to age. And we see from the statistics that people, as soon as they hit 70, driving skills drop dramatically. And right now, the leading edge of the baby boomers are in their 60s, but we know that it's coming, that we're going to have more and more millions and millions of people on the road in their 70s and 80s. And we need to start to have more conversations about, how do we make the roads safer when we've got this giant demographic shift coming?

CONAN: We actually arranged to have Marilyn Geewax on this program before she told us that story. She is a senior business editor here at NPR and she is supervising a series that's running on all of the NPR News programs this week called �On The Road To Safety.� It's based on a single, sobering statistic. On average, a hundred people a day die in traffic accidents. That's actually a substantial improvement. And the fact is, we know how to save even more lives but there are sacrifices involved, some bigger than others.

A lot to people have bought into seatbelts, for example, and we're willing to pay extra for airbags, but would you take away the keys from your elderly relative? Would you force motorcyclists to wear helmets? Will you really not answer your cell phone while you're driving? Will you limit yourself to one beer and be the designated driver? Will we pay higher taxes to make our roads safer? Our phone number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site, that's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And later in this hour, Dr. Queue will join us, just in time for Black Friday with tips on what to do while we are standing on those long lines at the stores, but first traffic safety. And let me reintroduce NPR senior business editor Marilyn Geewax, who is overseeing that �On The Road To Safety� series. As you look at this problem, there are trade-offs involved here.

GEEWAX: Every - at every point, it's basically a trade-off. We know what can make roads safer. We know that roads would be safer if everyone under 25 did not drive. We know the roads would be safer if we took the keys away from everyone who is over 75, just statistically these are true. It's also clear that if we spent a whole lot more on roads, we'd be safer. But do we really want higher taxes? Do we really want people 25 and younger to not even be able to get to work? You know, do we want to tell our parents at 75, you're confined to home and you can't drive? That's - these are very human and very difficult decisions and they all involve trade-offs.

CONAN: And a lot of people are going to say, hey, wait a minute, I know somebody who's 85 and drives beautifully.

GEEWAX: Right. And that's what - that's the human element, that you can't just look at this entirely as a matter of statistics. There are exceptions, there are human beings, there are, you know, 19-year-olds who are perfectly fine drivers. So we've got to try to sort out, how can we cut down on the things that really are problems, you know, without making too many trade-offs?

CONAN: Let's get some listeners involved in the conversation because this is about you. What are you willing to sacrifice? 800-98-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. And let's start with Vernon(ph). Vernon with us from Oakland.

VERNON (Caller): Hi. Thank you. Yeah, I don't think I am willing to - changing much. It seems to me that if you're going to drive, you are taking a risk. Anytime you drive, you will take a risk. Forty thousand people die on the freeways and highways of our country every year. You are not going to eliminate risk by scheming to repress people�

GEEWAX: Well, you know�

VERNON: �keep them off the streets or whatever, you're not going to do that. So, it comes down to me saying, I'm not willing to let other people repress, generally, more groups of people in order to save those few percentage points of people saved and not injured or what have you. Or you could do things - many more things. You could lower the speed limit.


GEEWAX: Right, right. There are the�

VERNON: There are lots of things you can do without repressing people. Now�

CONAN: Some people�

VERNON: �you know, if you're going to talk about�

CONAN: Some people in Wyoming say 55 miles an hour is repression.

VERNON: �and the driver's seat. If you want to talk about doing that, then you should take everybody who has had an - one or two accidents off the road.

GEEWAX: You know, on the issue of what are these trade-offs, you know, the government statistics suggest that about 15,000 people a year, their lives are saved just by wearing seatbelts. So, you're still getting what - where you want to go. You're not being told you can't drive, but if you simply put on a seatbelt, we can save 15,000 lives a year. So, is that - yeah, you're a little restricted by having to put on that seatbelt and sometimes it wrinkles my clothes and it can be a little inconvenient, but�

CONAN: And none of us�

GEEWAX: �you save a lot of lives with that.

CONAN: And none of us like being told what to do.

GEEWAX: Right. But, you know, what you have to try to get to is, what is - what are the reasonable trade-offs? For example, the speed limit. We know that more lives will be saved if we all drove 55, but that's not a number that most people like. People want to drive 65, so we're willing to trade-off a lot of lives every year just to have that 10 extra miles per hour.

CONAN: Vernon, thanks very much for the phone call. As we think about this, 35,000 people a year - between 35 and 40,000�


CONAN: �people a year - right in there, if that was Afghanistan, if that was Iraq, the hundred people - a hundred people being killed a day, if we could see it, but in fact it's ones and twos, here in Portland Bay, there in Portland�


CONAN: �Oregon, there in Long Beach, California.

GEEWAX: The way I think of it is, you know, you think of how awful September 11th was, when we had terrorist attacks and that was about 3,000 people died. This is more than 10 times a September 11th terrorist attack, every year, year after year. And yet, we sort of accept it because, as you say, it's a little here, it's a little there, but do we really think about that level of slaughter every year? Is it - what are the trade-offs? Maybe we should think about being willing to trade-off a little bit more to save more lives.

CONAN: Let's see if we get another caller in. This is Robin(ph). Robin with us from Lake Tahoe.

ROBIN (Caller): Hi. Thanks for letting me respond to that question because actually I have a very personal experience in this regard. About 20 years ago - I'm a mobile veterinarian in the Bay Area - and I had a head on collision with an 83-year-old woman in 1989, who had a legal driver's license, but she was so visually impaired, middle of the day, she crossed the path in front of me and I ended up hitting her and she died. Pretty devastating. She should never have had a legal driver's license. But the reason why I bring this up is because 10 years later, that influenced me, as a family member, to do whatever I had to do to take the keys away from a relative who also should not have been on the road. And - okay, she didn't talk to me for two months, even though, you know, I really worked hard to maintain the relationship, but she was no longer driving. And I think family members need to be as proactive as they can. They're the ones that know what their relatives' abilities are.

State Sen. JOYCE: It's really something that the states are going to have to address in much larger numbers as the baby boomers age, because, you know, another factor here is that families have a lot of mobility these days. I mean, it's very typical for children to live nowhere near their parents, or nieces and nephews, and it's difficult handling these things long distance. So you really need to have, in some ways, more involvement of officials who are on the scene and can see what's happening.

ROBIN: Well, can I just comment about that? I lived in California, and my elderly relative lived in Connecticut, but I still made the effort. And I found resources for her so that she did not have to be primarily behind the wheel.

GEEWAX: Well, I was fortunate in that my aunt was in Florida, where they actually made it relatively easy, and even that was quite an ordeal. So it depends on the state, but just across the board, it seems like this is an issue that we're going to have to deal with a lot more in coming decades.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Robin. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Jerry(ph). Jerry with us from O'Fallon in Missouri.

JERRY (Caller): Good afternoon. Yes, this is a sore spot with me. My first thing I'd say that I would gladly take public transportation, but as you know in this country, it's not very widely available.

Having spent many years in the airline business, you know, if a Boeing 767 crashed every other day, I think we'd probably see some kind of action on part of - and a clamor for action, but as you said, it's a person here, a couple people there.

But also coming from that industry, I think the big thing for operators is to test proficiency. We have such technology available now that, you know, simulation, driving simulation, would be relatively inexpensive. And there are a lot of people on the road that have never - as an example, my father, in his 80s, at that time never took a driving test to get a driver's license, and he no longer drives. We saw in our own world that that was no longer possible. But that the - we really are looking at a perfect storm because we have an aging population, and we have a geography that is built around automobile travel.

CONAN: The whole infrastructure, yeah.

GEEWAX: And the suburbs have really spread even more. I mean, a generation or two ago, cities were more compact. Now, they're really spread out with exurbs, and that makes driving all the tougher.

CONAN: A lot of places, there aren't even sidewalks. Jerry, thanks very much for the phone call.

JERRY: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking about making our roads safer today. It can be done, but what are we willing to give up to get there? Would you take away the keys from your elderly relative? Will you really not answer your cell phone while you're driving? Will we pay higher taxes to make our roads safer?

Call us, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. Marilyn Geewax will continue with us. She's overseeing the On The Road to Safety series. Up next, the sponsor of a bill that would, among other things, require drivers over 75 to pass special exams. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. How do we make our roads safer? Well, seatbelts, for one. Most people killed in cars weren't wearing one. Motorcycle helmets also save lives if you wear them.

Millions of people plan to hit the roads this week. We're talking about what you would give up to make those roads safer. Would you take away the keys from an elderly relative? Will you really not answer your cell phone while driving? Would we pay more in taxes to make our roads safer?

Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guest is Marilyn Geewax. She's overseeing NPR's On the Road to Safety series as its editor. And now we go to Brian Joyce, a lawmaker in Massachusetts, who's considering a bill that would require drivers age 75 and older to pass a series of tests in order to keep their driver's license. It would also provide civil immunity to doctors and police officers who report unsafe drivers. Brian Joyce is a state senator from Massachusetts and joins us now by phone from Boston. Good to have you with us today.

State Senator BRIAN JOYCE (Democrat, Massachusetts): Delighted to be here.

CONAN: What prompted you to introduce this legislation?

State Sen. JOYCE: Well, I mean, just as some of your callers have suggested, it is indeed a perfect storm. We have an aging population. The fastest-growing of our society are those persons beyond age 85, and really for the first time as a nation, as a society, we're dealing with a lot of aging drivers. And the overwhelming majority of drivers at all ages I think are safe, but as a person gets older, there's some limitations with respect to cognitive skills or physical abilities. And we have seen (unintelligible) very high-profile accidents here in Massachusetts.

I first introduced legislation about five years ago. This is the third go-around. And I thought it was fairly common sense. Just current law in Massachusetts is a person takes a driver's test at age 16 and a half and is never tested again.

CONAN: Yeah.


State Sen. JOYCE: Every 10 years, you get tested for vision. So if you can tell the difference between red, green and yellow and A, B and C, you're good to go for another 10 years.

My dad had a 95-year-old neighbor that lives down the hall from him just passed his vision test. He's good to go until he's 105. That's just, you know, ridiculous.

CONAN: One of the questions that some of our older listeners may begin to ask is how old are you, Senator?

State Sen. JOYCE: I'm 47. Sometimes I think it's - we're like automobiles. It's not the years but miles, and with political campaigns, there's a lot of miles on these 47 years.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: As this legislation would require, at 75 another test?

State Sen. JOYCE: Well, you know, it was interesting. The - my original proposal was for 85, and that is the first driver's license examination beyond age - or renewal beyond age 85. So if you renewed at 84, it's good for five years, really it would have started at 89, to require a road test. And immediately, I, you know, quite surprised, frankly, that the breadth and the depth of the opposition, primarily driven by the AARP, who suggested that the age 85 was, you know, somewhat arbitrary. And my response to that was look, you know, we collectively make some judgments with respect to age 16 in our state for a learner's permit, 16 and a half to drive, 18 to vote, 21 to drink alcohol, indeed 55 to join AARP.

But the data is, in fact, not arbitrary. It's - you know, the statistics are quite telling. Beyond 75, a person's driving skills do indeed diminish, and beyond 85, they diminish precipitously. So a few years ago, we did in fact pass some pretty strict legislation with respect to teenage drivers in Massachusetts, and as a result, we've seen a decline in teenage driving deaths. But we've not yet had the political will to pass something with respect to senior drivers, frankly because the seniors vote.

CONAN: Would you be willing to also, along with this legislation, to put in a companion bill that would provide transportation for seniors who lose their ability to drive?

State Sen. JOYCE: Well, you know, it's an interesting thing. We do have to be very sensitive to the fact that, for many people, driving is akin to independence, and we certainly are sensitive to that.

In Massachusetts, we do have Council on Aging vans in virtually every community in the state. We have - I heard the caller earlier from a different state. We have a fairly extensive public transportation network here, but the reality is government can't do everything. And the - you know family members, loved ones, societally we need to pick up the difference and ensure that folks can still get to, you know, to worship or to the market or to their doctors appointments.

But there are a very small amount of drivers, senior drivers, that simply are unsafe, and when I testified a couple years ago, I suggested to the House chairman of transportation, who indicated opposition, I said look, I hope it doesn't take a tragic event in one of our districts, and sure enough, there was a beautiful little four-year-old girl in my district, Diya Patel, crossing in the crosswalk with her grandfather holding her hand, and she was struck and killed by a senior drive that ought not to have been on the road.

GEEWAX: You know, one of the problems that we've explored, Neal, in this series is the need for government spending on transportation issues. And yet this is the time with - the recession has really hit hard at state budgets. Local budgets are constrained. The federal government is having a tough time passing any kind of a transportation bill.

We are coming into this demographic shift at the very time when government spending will be really constrained.

CONAN: We have this email from Tim(ph) in San Rafael, California, and Senator, I think this could be directed to you. Would it not make sense to invest more driving tests in conjunction with license renewal? Poor driving habits are not the sole province of the young and the elderly.

State Sen. JOYCE: You know, it's a very good point. You know, it's interesting, though. Someone far brighter than I suggested that the enemy of good is better or perfect, right? And so in an ideal world, we would test every driver every hour to make sure he or she is still safe.

CONAN: Well, maybe not every hour.

State Sen. JOYCE: But the reality is there's a precipitous decline in driving skills beyond 85, and there's a decline beyond 75. So let's start with, you know, in terms of a cost-benefit analysis where we'd have the greatest result.

But in this bill, which has been reported out in Massachusetts, in the Transportation Committee, the testing would begin at 75, but we would also have testing for younger drivers who have some surchargable(ph) events in their driving history; who have exhibited, you know, a problem driving, whether it's a couple of accidents or what.

And one of your earlier callers also suggested something. I thought he was dead-on right that with the technological advances, much of this testing could be done through simulation equipment so that we don't need to invest in a whole new bureaucracy of, you know, road tests and such.

GEEWAX: And let me just say, automakers are trying to make cars better for elderly drivers. New kinds of windshields are being studied that make it easier to see in the evening when your eyesight is declining.

CONAN: Senator, what's the prospects for passage of this legislation?

State Sen. JOYCE: I think we're going to get something passed this term. I mean, there's been a - as I mentioned earlier, just an incredibly tragic run of high-profile accidents. And now we have the newspapers digging into public information as to, you know, ones that may not have resulted in an accident.

I'll tell you, we just got a report, for example, of a 90-year-old fellow who walked into a police station, suggesting that his car was stuck in the snow. And when they investigated - it turned out this was in August - his car was on a golf course in a sand trap. And so fortunately, in that instance, nobody was killed, but it really is an extreme example of, you know, where a person ought not to be on the road. And you know, I do think that we're going to pass something this term, and I think that frankly, every state in the union is going to have to deal with this very real issue of older drivers.

CONAN: Senator Joyce, thanks for your time.

State Sen. JOYCE: My pleasure.

CONAN: Brian Joyce, a state senator from Massachusetts, who represents Norfolk, Bristol and Plymouth district and joined us by phone from the state capitol in Boston.

Here's an email from Aftab(ph) in Syracuse. I would support a mandatory cap on vehicle speed with engine governors that would only allow speeding for a short time in case of emergencies. Why have a speed limit if so many flout it? Either that or stricter enforcement, not higher fines but more people caught and more dollars for the police to continue enforcement. There are more states doing that, too.

GEEWAX: Yeah, you know, but the issue of the speed limit is just a tough one. Every time states have a choice, it seems like they choose to make it even higher than 65. I mean, it's really very unpopular to talk about limiting speed. And you get in a new car, and you know, what does the speedometer say, 140 miles per hour? I mean, why do we have cars that go so fast?

CONAN: Let's get Rick(ph) on the line, Rick with us from Shingletown, California.

RICK (Caller): Thank you very much, glad to get on.

CONAN: Good.

RICK: Anyway, I was going to say that my grandmother was about 80 years old. She didn't pass her vision test, as you were saying, and she had a nice, big Crown Victoria, because let's face it, lots of people like bigger cars, especially the older folks. Unfortunately, you don't get good gas mileage, though.

But she didn't pass her vision test, and she drove anyway, so, for the next three years until my aunt was driving her car one day, and actually, she got ready to take off from a light, and the ball joint broke, and that wheel just literally laid over. Thanks goodness nobody was, especially my grandmother, driving down the road.

CONAN: She drove a Crown Vic. What do you drive?

RICK: Oh, I have a '55 Studebaker, and I also have a '58 Chevy Apache I'm working on.

GEEWAX: Did you install seatbelts on those old cars?

RICK: Yes, they have seatbelts in them, and guess what? They are very safe. I live on Highway 44. We have a lot of head-on collisions here right outside of Redding, California. And we also have deer. And if I am driving in one of those cars, I feel a lot safer than I do, like, in my Dodge Dakota which is a lot of plastic. And there's part of the problem too, we're trying to save gas mileage and go to smaller cars. And you know what, people don't have the respect anymore. And somehow we need to change people's attitudes such as the cell phones. I still see people talking on the cell phone, like they're getting away with something, and not hands-free, and they're risking my life. And it's supposed to be just as dangerous as drinking and driving.

GEEWAX: Yes. You know, Don, Neal, we talked about the�

CONAN: Rick, your phone is breaking up so I'm going to let you go. But thanks very much for the call.

GEEWAX: We've been talking about elderly drivers, but it's really important to note that it's actually young people who are the most dangerous drivers. If you really look at the highest rate of being involved in fatal accidents, it's 16 to 20-year-olds, and boys are particularly bad. And some of what's happening there is drinking, for sure, but a lot of it these days is distracted drivers. Kids are very addicted to texting and talking on the cell phone.

And I was thinking about that. You know, this is the first generation of kids who are coming into cars who grew up being distracted. I mean, when you get in the vehicle, your parents would put you in the backseat and, you know, you're all buckled up and you're nice and safe, but your experience of travelling is not looking at license plates or playing tag with license numbers�

CONAN: You know, counting the little white lines.

GEEWAX: �counting the white lines, your experience was total distraction. You're listening to your iPod. You're watching a movie. You're talking to a friend on the cell phone. Yes, you are nice and safe and snug in the backseat, but kids were very disconnected from driving as an experience. And suddenly, they turn 16 years old and you say, oh, turn all of that off: no more iPhone, no more iPod, no more DVD playing in the background, now you have to watch the road. And they're really disconnected from the experience of driving. They're used to thinking of a vehicle as an - just another distraction.

CONAN: Another entertainment vehicle.

GEEWAX: Right. And, you know, so I think, gosh, that's got to be a real mind-switch for them to go away from thinking that the family car is, kind of, the place where I go to escape and get in to my own thoughts and now think of it as, oh, here's where I take responsibility.

CONAN: Just that last caller was talking about his big hunk of Detroit metal, that Studebaker, is he right? Is there a tradeoff between the weight and sturdiness of a car and safety?

GEEWAX: Well, that's a whole other issue. The idea that the safety agenda and the green agenda are in some ways�

CONAN: At odds.

GEEWAX: �at odds, because, you know, maybe you were really - we were in the golden age of safety when we were in the big honking Denali 10 years ago - in a great big SUV, but not on our cell phone and not texting compared with driving in the future where you're in a smart car while trying to text. You know, there may be something to be said for bigger cars as safer, although, you know, there are different safety features that can be built into a smaller�


GEEWAX: �car, but you still talking - if you hit into a tractor trailer, it's sort of like a little more steel around you than in a smart car.

CONAN: And that's been pointed out to me that Studebakers were made in Indiana and not in Detroit, so�

(Soundbite of laughter)


CONAN: �I apologize for that. Marilyn Geewax is editing our series �On The Road To Safety.� You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get Bob(ph) on the line, Bob calling us from Aberdeen in South Dakota.

BOB (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. I know we're talking about younger drivers and elderly drivers and distracted drivers, and those certainly add to the statistics, but it's my understanding that the lion's share of the fatalities on the road are alcohol related.


BOB: And that includes - in all those other groups that we're talking about, almost 50 percent from what I understand. And I'd be willing to blow into a machine or touch my skin with some type of device that would disable my car if I had been drinking. And�

GEEWAX: About a third of highway fatalities are really related to drinking, and that's huge, a third of people who get killed is because of�

CONAN: Ten thousand people a year.

GEEWAX: �year because of drinking and driving, even after all that we know about how dangerous that is. And, you know, if you're driving after midnight, between midnight and 3:00 in the morning, then it's the great majority of accidents are alcohol related. So, you know, it's really a dangerous time to be on the roads between midnight and 3:00 because of bars letting out and younger people, particularly, being drunk and driving.

CONAN: And there are devices that can be fitted into cars that Bob is describing after people typically have had one or two DUIs and they are required to blow into this device or the car won't start.

GEEWAX: Again, this is back to this issue of it's all too human. It's very - people don't want to think, oh, I'm going to have this piece of technology in my car that's going to act like a policeman and stop me from doing what I want, but - and we know this kills people and we know there are ways to stop it.

Again, it's back to the theme of tradeoffs. What are we willing to do? How much of an imposition? How much of a nanny state do you want? But, how many deaths do you want?

CONAN: Bob, thanks very much.

BOB: You're welcome.

CONAN: And let's see if we can go next to - this is Joe(ph), Joe with us from Denver.

JOE (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call, Neal.

CONAN: Sure.

JOE: This is a topic that's near and dear to my heart. I am an urban planner by trade. And I wanted to talk about a point that your guest alluded to at the beginning of the discussion and that is the design of streets. And, you know, we have abdicated responsibility for the design of streets to civil engineers, and their main goal is to move traffic. And if you look at their transportation manuals, a lot them refer to pedestrians as impediments to the flow of traffic. And, you know, there's traffic-calming measures that we can design into streets, and that's something that needs to be looked at. There needs to be�

CONAN: It needs to be prioritized is, I think, what you're saying.

JOE: Yeah, exactly.

CONAN: And a lot of this would require retrofitting. And instead of having a traffic light, putting a traffic circle, a lot of people say that's coming because it make you focus on what you're doing, nevertheless, that's expensive.

GEEWAX: We know a lot about�

JOE: True.

GEEWAX: �roads and what can make them safer, and they're just - the changes are expensive, especially when we look at - rural roads are especially dangerous and yet it's very expensive to make them, you know, wider, to put in barriers, to really do the things that save lives. Do we want to spend more in taxes?

CONAN: Thanks very much, Joe. Here's an email from Debbie(ph) in Park Ridge, Illinois. What will we give up? How about what employers might give up? How about office spaces? Monday through Friday, most of the travel is work-related, yet many jobs could be done via telecommuting. Why can't more policies be put into place to encourage businesses to have workers telecommute as a safety issue. Well, there's another idea. Marilyn Geewax, thank you so much for being with us today.

GEEWAX: Oh, you're welcome, Neal.

CONAN: And good luck with the series.

GEEWAX: Thank you.

CONAN: Coming up, Dr. Queue. You faced long lines at the airport, at the mall. Here's a hint, shop just before closing. The wait is shorter.

(Soundbite of coughing)

CONAN: How to stay sane and stop from coughing along - while you're in line. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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