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Traffic safety holy grail: Zero deaths

Discussion in 'Sports and News' started by Dick Whitman, Feb 19, 2013.

  1. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    Interesting little piece on states' reach-for-the-sky goal to completely eliminate traffic fatalities:


    It comes on the heels of a story over the weekend, I think, about how there are essentially no commercial airline crashes any more.

    It's actually remarkable how far we've come in a short time when it comes to auto safety. Remember, in the early 1980s, the Reagan adminstration was fighting tooth-and-nail, all the way to the Supreme Court, about mandatory seat belts. Not wearing them. But even putting them in vehicles, if I recall.

    I'm wondering how possible this will be, without making cars prohibitively expensive. But someone in the piece had an interesting point - that zero deaths is the only morally acceptable goal. I'd never thought of it that way and, in fact, always used our road and highway system as the answer to, "If it saves one person, then it's worth it ..." arguments about gun control, censorship, and so on and so forth.
  2. The Big Ragu

    The Big Ragu Moderator Staff Member

    Not wearing a seat belt is a victimless crime. The only person harmed is the one who made a decision about his or her life. Criminalizing self-risk is always a dangerous precedent for a number of reasons, but in particular, because it can result in unfair redistributions of risk. What if people with seat belts drive more recklessly -- and put others at risk -- because they feel safer with their mandatory seat belt on?


    There is a risk economist named John Adams, in London who has crusaded about this, and statistically has made several compelling cases that road deaths have not decreased as a result of seat belt laws -- in some of the countries he has looked at, there has actually been a net increase in traffic-related fatalities since mandatory seat belt laws were passed. He posits that it is due to risk compensation.

    Here is his something he did on the 25th anniversary of the Britain's seat belt laws, for anyone interested: http://john-adams.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2006/12/Seat%20belts%20for%20significance.pdf
  3. Azrael

    Azrael Well-Known Member

    The safest car in the world would have no belts and no airbags - only a poison-tipped razor-sharp chromium spike 20" long coming out of the steering wheel hub and pointed directly at the driver's heart.

  4. The Big Ragu

    The Big Ragu Moderator Staff Member

    It's not only impractical. . ... You have the opposite problem of trying to regulate self-risk. In that car, you've instituted a regulation that potentially punishes people who have taken no extra risk. Get rear ended by someone and you die because of their driving. I'm not sure I would call that the safest car in the world.
  5. old_tony

    old_tony Well-Known Member

    To reach zero deaths, the government would have to regulate every car's top speed at 0 mph.
  6. doctorquant

    doctorquant Well-Known Member

    Many years ago the (former) chief economist at the FDA spoke as a guest lecturer in an undergraduate honors class for which I was administratively responsible (I didn't teach it, I just made sure that everything was scheduled properly, etc.). He talked about the costs of vetting drugs versus the cost of not vetting them, with the idea that at some point an additional dollar spent on testing can't be expected to generate an additional dollar in benefits. He plotted the curves out like any economist would do, and the students in the class got suckered right in. "Of course," the students said, "You should find that point at which your marginal benefit equals your marginal cost and not spend a penny more on testing than that." And they were totally wrong, because such expenditures don't occur in a vacuum; every dollar spent on testing could be spent somewhere else.

    If "zero deaths is the only morally acceptable goal," then what that means is that on the margin we might -- note that I wrote "might," not "would" -- pass over opportunities to benefit much more by spending in other ways. If, for example, we made cars even safer (but more expensive), we'd force people to spend more on their cars and less on other things that might improve their life expectancy. Put another way, at some point every life saved in pursuing a zero-traffic-deaths goal might result in a life lost in some other way.
  7. Azrael

    Azrael Well-Known Member

    Government-funded electric car joke goes here: ___________________________ .
  8. old_tony

    old_tony Well-Known Member

    That gave me a good early morning laugh. Thank you, sir. :D
  9. Azrael

    Azrael Well-Known Member

    My pleasure.
  10. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    Right. Of course. Which is why the "if it saves one life ..." argument fails. But within those parameters, it would be interesting to see how low we can drive traffic deaths. Of course, public transportation would have to be part of that solution, I would think. And conservatives, of course, love public transportation.
  11. 93Devil

    93Devil Well-Known Member

    Sort of reminds me of No Child Left Behind.
  12. 93Devil

    93Devil Well-Known Member

    At some point we will have cars driving themselves. It might not be in 10 years or 20 years, but there will be a point where we type the destination, sit back, break out the Ipad and wait until we are there so we can park.
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