Logic on safety

Oct 30 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

My father, only partly jokingly, used to say that one of the issues with car safety is that people who cause accidents don't bare the cost/brunt/result of their bad driving. "If we mounted spikes on the steering wheel", he said "long sharp spikes" so that if you braked suddenly or hit someone, you would get a long sharp spike in your chest, "everyone would drive much more carefully and never drive drunk". Actually, I suspect this might not hold for adolescents who believe they are immortal.

Part of the problem, as Dick Lewontin, the population geneticist used to say, is that people aren't good at integrating. That is, they don't do well with calculating the area under the curve. Thus a narrow spike, like 9/11 changes our government (has dept. of homeland security really done anything to merit the amount of money it sucks up?), our lives, and everything else. I am not saying that the lives lost were not important, or that it wasn't a horrible event. I'm talking about the proportionality of the response. A small, steady, but constant problem, like drunk driving, which isn't dramatic, has a bigger impact over time, but doesn't get the attention. Some would say this echoes our nervous system: we respond better to edges than to gradual changes.

According to the CDC:

In 2015, 10,265 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third (29%) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States

One bit of information is that drunk driving is only 1/3 of the deaths, so we're talking about >30,000 per year in car deaths. The deaths in 9/11 were a one-time count of 2996 (note: the deaths due to 9/11 may be rising due to pulmonary complications. acknowledged. check. but those deaths are not what the response was about).

It's been 16 years, and in that time (doing the integration) 480,000 people have died in traffic accidents.

Although awareness of drunk driving has increased. Certainly, it more important than it was when I was young. But, despite the level of attention it receives, there is still an issue, and one about which we, as a society, are reluctant to grasp and address. Certainly if we compare the response to 9/11 to that of drunk driving, we come up short.

There are lots of reasons. There are reasons that promote dealing with 9/11 and others that reduce the attention on drunk driving. Politics: those in power tend to drink but not fly planes into buildings. Politics: you look good by advocating a strong stance on terrorism. Heck, let's declare war on a noun.

And drunk driving is only one thing. There are other, largely preventable causes of death, including other substance abuse, faulty infrastructure, being it fire safety or hurricane preparedness. I suspect there is more public money going into hurricane response (if you are white, etc... Do not forget Puerto Rico) than infrastructure in general.  But hurricanes are dramatic one off things, as opposed to the slow daily and deadly drip of people killed by drunk drivers. We like the dramatic things, but we just can't integrate under the curve.

2 responses so far

  • eeke says:

    I read a very interesting article this weekend about people who have accidentally killed another person. Gun accidents are not uncommon. The article was mostly focused on those who survived a car accident that may in some way be deemed their fault. One example was a woman who ran over a toddler who had ran out into the road. She wasn't driving fast, but didn't see him in time to stop. A young relative of mine lost her best friend this past summer - she was rear-ended at a traffic light by a 20-year old traveling 60 mph. I'm sure the 20 yr old didn't mean to kill her; a stupid mistake (maybe he was asleep?) that he has to live with the rest of life. We've all made mistakes, and most of us are fortunate enough that no one is seriously injured from them, but I feel we're not much better than those who were not able to escape like that.

    You're right, though, substance abuse deserves attention (if that's what you're getting at), but so does gun control and other mental health issues.

    Link to the article: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/09/18/the-sorrow-and-the-shame-of-the-accidental-killer

    • potnia theron says:

      I read the same article.

      A couple of different things going on here. There is variation in what is meant by "accidental". Going 20mph when a kid runs in front of your car is not the same the thing as rear-ending someone when you are going 60mph. My lawyer partner and I debate the role of intent in such situations. Obviously, the law, our law, cares about intent. But if it is your child, lover, spouse, parent who is killed they are every bit as dead and gone and not coming back as if it was "on purpose".

      Yes, we all make mistakes. But if you keep loaded guns locked up, and don't drive drunk or texting or at 60mph, the accident is much less likely. Part of my father's point was that a deterrent, such as a spike in the steering wheel, would move us all much more towards the "not making a mistake" end of the axis.

      My point was only that splashy peaks in the death rate, of which 9/11 is the type specimen, gets more attention than the slow drip, drip, drip of one death every 60 min in different places. We don't integrate: we don't see how many people are dying. Drunk driving is a much more serious problem than 9/11. It is. It continues to be. But we have poured billions into "security" and still people think its ok to drive drunk (cause they do it).

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