Friday, November 10, 2006

More on risk and driving

There were some comments on my recent post on risk and driving. Reader TC wrote in to say:
I noticed you've posted a couple of times on how a lack of traffic controls actually improves safety. My wife grew up in a small town in northern Michigan and there was only one traffic light in the entire county. I once asked the police chief which stretch of road in the county had the most traffic accidents. Can you guess his answer?
Heh! Note that the causality may be in reverse though -- the most dangerous stretch of town gets the traffic light. Also, Winterspeak reader MA dissents:
Greater risk of death doesn't always make people more cautious drivers. That's why people still drink and drive.
This is true -- people do drink and drive even though this makes them more dangerous to themselves and to others. I'm not sure this invalidates the assertion that increasing risk makes for more cautious drivers though, you can always say it makes a difference at the margin, but it does highlight some key issues with reckless driving.

1) If you drive carelessly, you bear some of the risk, but people around you bear the rest. This means that you may be more careful if you take on more risk, but not careful enough as you do not bear all of the risk. Mechanism to help amplify the risk to the driver may correct this -- ideas include banning seat belts on the drivers side, and affixing a spike in the steering column, pointing to the heart. Better yet, do both.

2) The article mentioned how there were still accidents, maybe more, but they were smaller and less dangerous. I cannot keep straight how behavioral economics says people respond to risk, but it's screwy. Possibly, increasing low level risk prevents people from taking on catastrophic risk.


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