"ACCIDENTS WILL HAPPEN," or so the saying goes. This year has seen its share of prominent examples that would seem to support that claim, including the oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, the Upper Big Branch mine collapse in West Virginia, and two deadly train crashes in India, which also leads the world in traffic fatalities. A March report from the Russian Emergency Ministry predicted a rise in accidents this year throughout Russia, attributable to industrial accidents and explosions resulting from faulty equipment.

In other areas, the news is somewhat brighter. China's road deaths have been falling significantly over the past decade. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that since 1979 the per capita number of traffic deaths in the United States has decreased by 35 percent. says the Swedish automaker Volvo announced publicly that it has set out to eliminate all deaths and serious injuries in its vehicles by the year 2020. According to the company's senior manager in safety strategy, Jan Varsson, "Zero is the one and only alternative for us . . . . we can't accept that people are killed or injured just because they want to transport themselves from A to B."

It's heartening to find people and companies rejecting the idea of inevitable injury and death. But is it possible to go further? Is it reasonable for humankind actually to eliminate accidents themselves? In other words, must we take it as a given that, even if the personal, societal, and environmental harm they cause can be mitigated or eliminated, "accidents will [still] happen?"

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August 30, 2010

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