What A Post 9-11 World Means To You (Really)

"Your papers please," asks a soldier/bureaucrat dressed in a dreary grey uniform while it rains in the dismal background.  This iconic phrase and setting has often been used for decades in Hollywood movies to distinguish what life was like under fascism or communism versus our own free society, and that our expenditure of blood and treasure used to battle with those evil empires was justified because our way of life was in jeopardy.

Of course, our government knew that the use of such a phrase would evoke such a stigma amongst Americans that our own society was becoming less free and more fascist.  Consequently, a more cheerful phrase had to be invented to get the citizenry to comply without feeling as though they were somehow unwillingly giving up more of their privacy and freedoms.  So with blue skies, green meadows, and light sunshiny images in the background, "Gather, Go, Get" was unveiled to the public.

Now, whether you are a recent immigrant or someone who was born and raised in the U.S. for the last 80 years, a laundry list of new documents must be presented to obtain or renew a Florida driver's license. 

Instead of a grey militaristic uniform, would-be drivers present their papers to a DMV worker who wears a pastel colored t-shirt displaying Florida's "Endless Summer" license plate.  The Friday casual DMV worker will rifle through your stack of documents to see if you are in compliance.  If you are not, they will hand you a happy, happy, joy, joy "Gather, Go, Get" brochure.

If enough documentation has been shown (lucky you), your documents aren't immediately returned to you.  Instead, your personal documents make a quick trip away from the glass-windowed counter to a scanner.  Yes, that's right, every document that you brought in to prove your identity is scanned into a central database that can be accessed by any federal or state government thanks to the Real ID Act (the governments of Canada and Mexico also have access to your information as well).

But a little less privacy is the price we Americans must pay for our war on terror.   After all, nearly 3,000 U.S. citizens were killed in 2001, greater than the number of lives lost in Pear Harbor.

So we willingly give up our additional documentation to the DMV to demonstrate that we are who we are, and not a terrorist (nevermind the fact that the DMV worker is staring at your last driver's license picture on their computer when asking for these documents).  

A little extra information here, open my luggage there, extra wait at the airport - I don't care, I'm a good American doing my part to safeguard against another 9-11 calibre attack.

But here is the kicker.  Statistically, you are over 3,000 times more likely to be killed in a car accident, and over 80,000 times more likely to be related to someone who died in a car accident than someone who died in a terrorist attack.

So why is it that we are so willingly to accept long delays, personal intrusions, and inconveniences over 3,000 deaths that occurred due to a terrorist attack in 2001 when the total traffic related deaths in 2001 exceed 38,000?

Yes, that is right.  If terrorists were able to pull off a 9-11 scale terror attack every single year for the last ten years, it still would not equal all of the traffic deaths that occurred in the year 2001 alone.

If we halved all of the current speed limits in place on roads right now, with the maximum speed on interstate highways at 35 mph and 20 mph in the city, we could nearly eliminate all traffic deaths in the U.S.  So what, it adds a little extra time and inconvenience.  But we could eliminate 10 times the number of 9-11 deaths that occur each year and the price of gas would fall to just under $2 a gallon.

"Wait a minute! No thank you!" you would probably say.  "I'll take my chances at 75 mph on the interstate, I've got to go where I need to go."

If you didn't understand by now, this commentary is not about reducing speed limits.  This commentary probably would not have compared terrorism with traffic deaths.  But it was the government, after all, that linked our driver's licenses to the war on terror.

This commentary simply wanted to demonstrate the irrational statistical risk relationship that Americans have come to accept with giving up freedoms and their way of life for an extremely less likely death due to terrorism than a much more likely (and daily) risk of dying while driving.

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