Increased car safety is useless

I’ve got a book in my hand called “Target Risk” that claims that pretty much no matter how safe you make cars or driving, accident rates will not decrease. Something called risk homeostasis theory. Anyone know of evidence that proves this theory incorrect?

For the book, I’m assuming you are refering to this book by Gerald J.S. Wilde, isbn: 0969912404.

And for others who aren’t completely positive on the word, one definition of Homeostasis I’ve found is: HOMEOSTASIS(l) Dynamic self-regulation. (2) The condition of a system when it is able to maintain its essential variables within limits acceptable to its own structure in the face of unexpected disturbances.

From which I am surmising that a risk homeostasis theory must be positing that increasing the number of safety features on cars, and/or training drivers to drive more safely there are other factors will cause the accident rates to remain at/near where they are now.

Ummm… preesh can you list some of the other factors that are supposed to cause this so we actually have something to debate here?

As a slight hijack:

The problem is that the safer we make cars, the more reckless people will be with them.

I saw some guy make a good point on TLC the other day. he said, “The best thing we could do to make people drive safer is; instead of making them safer, we should install a 8 inch metal spike in the middle of the steering column.”

That would slow people down!:slight_smile:

Moderator’s note:

Even though this topic’s a bit nebulous it looks more like Great Debate fodder rather than just opinion.

TVeblen
for IMHO

I don’t think that’s a hijack. I think that’s the what we’re supposed to be arguing about. This is a hijack:

Similiarly, wouldn’t football be less dangerous (as regards serious injuries) without all the padding? What makes the field such a dangerous place is having 22 bodies flying around at flank speed with hard helmets and flak jackets that make for excellent weapons. Without the plastic helmet, you can’t just run around banging into people as hard as you like. I say bring back the leather helmets and ditch the hard flak jackets. Sure we’d see more cuts and bruises and broken noses, but spinal cord injuries would go way down.

Anyway, I’m not sure if the same would apply to cars, but it’s conceivable. There are all sorts of other things that would affect the way people drive (laws, for one).

Cyber has got it. The theory (that is the correct author - Wilde) has it that people hold within themselves a certain ‘target risk’ that they are happy to live with. As cars get safer, the PERCEIVED (important point) risk diminishes and therefore they have some risk to play with. They consume this risk by going faster or or driving more. The important stat in risk homeostasis is accidents per hour/day/year rather than accidents per distance driven. Since cars and roads are, indeed safer, people drive far more.
In Sweden and Iceland, for instance, when they switched the side of the road that they drove on, they spent a load of money on increased police and paramedic presence to account for all the accidents that would occur in the confusion. Accident rates DECREASED substantially after the change. People perceived a higher risk and drove with more care or took the bus. A few months after the change, accident rates had returned to normal.

Well, I’ve heard that a similar thing happened with suncreen. People who used sunscreen spent more time in the sun, so they got melenoma more often.

Why don’t we just add more safety features to cars but not tell anybody about it?

That would actually work. You would just have to keep it secret. Not a likely prospect.

I don’t doubt that people adjust to safety features, but it is over the top to suggest that that they behave so as to render the safety devices useless. In order for this to be true people would have to be able to make unbiased estimates of accident probabilities. Given that they don’t it would be possible for some safety devices to reduce accident risk.

It’s very true that people perceive risk in ways that are inconsistent with the facts. Look at nuclear power. The fact is that some will underestimate the safety value of the device and some will overestimate it. The net should be to cancel out the improvement. Compounding this is the fact that about 95% of drivers feel that they are better drivers than average. Especially in driving, people vastly underestimate their personal risk.
As an aside, when they introduced child-proof safety caps on pill bottles, guess what? Accidental poisonings in children from pills went UP. People were more careless now that they didn’t have to worry about their children getting into those bottles.

[QUOTE]
*Originally posted by VarlosZ *
**

I agree totally. The Europeans call us a wuss because we wear pads in football and they don’t in Rugby. This is exacly my point. We wear pads because we hit harder. If they hit as hard without pads as we do with, there would be some serious injuries.

But lets stay on topic . . .

For as long as we drive what we know as a standard automobile I agree that the accident rate will remain very close to what it is now.

When manufacturers can incorporate computerized crash avoidance and navigational systems we may see a decrease in the accident rate.

What causes accidents? People. Take people out of the equation and things might improve.

“Similiarly, wouldn’t football be less dangerous (as regards serious injuries) without all the padding? What makes the
field such a dangerous place is having 22 bodies flying around at flank speed with hard helmets and flak jackets that
make for excellent weapons. Without the plastic helmet, you can’t just run around banging into people as hard as
you like. I say bring back the leather helmets and ditch the hard flak jackets. Sure we’d see more cuts and bruises
and broken noses, but spinal cord injuries would go way down.”*

I read a study some time ago that did show that serious injuries actually increased when football players adopted a hard helmet vs the old fashioned leather head guard. It actually changed the way the game is played where modern players lead with their head and significantly increase the odds of suffering neck and spinal injuries. One is not going to go charging head first into someone if their headgear isn’t designed to offer that level of protection.

The same thing has happened in hockey where better equipment gives players a greater sense of invulnerability so the checking becomes harder and often more dangerous. One safety feature that most players refuse to use is a face shield when it is believed by many that this simple addition would prevent a number of serious eye injuries. ie. Al McKinnis(?) of St. Louis is presently out due to an eye injury as was Ulanov of the Oilers. [sub] anyone see the Oil destroy Toronto last night? :)[/sub]

What this ignores is that people don’t just act more dangerously for no reason. If people act with more risk, there must be some benefit, real or perceived, for doing so. Suppose the risk gets “consumed” by people driving faster. So now we have the same amount of accidents, but people are driving faster. How can anyone look at this and say that the safety measured did no good? People are wasting less time on the road, and are therefore more productive and happier. And with no increase in risk! Saying that saftey measures are useless because the decrease in risk will be “consumed” is like saying that paying workers more per hour is useless, because that causes them to work less, and their overall income stays the same.

But they do, they do! Take a look at Anti-Lock braking systems (ABS). This nifty little feature increases your braking distance in order to provide a driver with more control… and to prevent skidding. But many people who have ABS (sorry no studies, just anecdotal) actually believe they have a shorter stopping distance… and tend to tailgate.

Ah, but that supports my argument Barbarian! :slight_smile: It would just make ABS a lousy safety device. People can hardly be said to be fully and rationally compensating for increased safety if they don’t understand the effect of the device on their risk.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying adjustment doesn’t happen, I’m denying that driver behaviour reflects an informed and consistent risk assessment. The 95% of people think they are better than average drivers (don’t know if it’s that high) is a nice example of biased assessment. Subjective risk assessment is subject to cognitive dissonance reduction, invalid experience extrapolation (I’ve never died from speeding yet) and irrational discounting of the significance of small but catastophic risks. This stuff is the meat and drink of decision theorists and cognitive pyschologists. Real people do not behave according to the axioms of the Von Neuman-Morgenstern expected utility hypothesis.

What this means is that safety devices which take into account inconsistencies in driver behaviour and exploit them can improve safety. Passive devices (roll bars, seat belts, suggestive road cambering etc) are more likely to help than active ones like ABS, which may indeed detract from safety.

Oh, BTW, cunning argument The Ryan, but I suspect it would lose its force if the cost of installing such devices were taken into account.

And the remark about equipping cars with spikes mentioned by Cyberhwk is IIRC due to economist Gordon Tullock*, who also opined that the biggest barrier to road safety is: car insurance.

*[sub]I should add that Tullock would probably agree with phreesh’s OP.[/sub]