It would be hard to have a more shocking news item: On the 11th of March at approximately 09:30, Tim Kretschmer went through his former school in Winnenden to the north of Stuttgart, shooting teachers and students at random before hijacking a car and forcing the driver to take him to Wendlingen, a town a few kilometres from here, where he killed two more people before finally committing suicide after being shot by police. In all 16 people were killed.

The German Chancellor declared a period of mourning, saying “It is unimaginable that in just seconds, pupils and teachers were killed – it is an appalling crime.” All flags were lowered to half mast. In our local church 16 candles were lit in memory of the dead, and prayers were said for their families. People are feeling a little less safe and we’re getting the usual calls for tighter gun laws.

Earlier this year, the German government quietly reported that that 4467 people were killed by road traffic last year, a figure that rounds down to a bit more than 12 people a day. In other words, if we were to remember every road death each week with a church candle, then we’d need to have about 85 candles to do them justice. If you include deaths caused by pollution the number goes up further: the Danish government have estimated that traffic pollution kills ten times as many people as traffic, which would give us 44670 candles a week, well over 500000 a year.

Of course, this is at odds with the story we tell ourselves and which governments, car makers and dealers and associations tell us: that motor vehicles are normal and safe. It’s easy to believe this because it’s rare we see a traffic incident, and we don’t see the effects of pollution, so we carry on telling ourselves the story, because if we stop believing the story we have to change our actions.

I hope we are shocked at the deaths in Winnenden, but let’s be consistent: as many people in Germany were killed by road vehicles on the same day.

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