THE Cedar Creek Saloon, a bar an hour or so outside Houston, sits just off the freeway next to a clutch of motels, a barbecue restaurant and a petrol station. From anywhere nearby the only way to reach it, realistically, is by car. And yet on a Friday night it is packed with people happily smoking as they work their way through buckets of Bud Light. Not everyone is driving; but one patron, a little worse for wear, admits that not everyone drinking has a lift home. “People out here drink when they want to drink,” he says. And drunk-driving laws? “They don’t pay attention at all.”
Drunk-driving is just one of the perils of American roads. In 2014 some 32,675 people were killed in traffic accidents. In 2013, the latest year for which detailed data are available, some 2.3m were injured—or one in 100 licensed drivers. These numbers are better than a few decades ago, but still far worse than in any other developed country. For every billion miles Americans drive, roughly 11 people are killed. If American roads were as safe per-mile-driven as Ireland’s, the number of lives saved each year would be equivalent to preventing all the murders in the country.