Small steps use­ful in re­duc­ing risk

Cape Breton Post - - COMMENT -

Hu­mans are no­to­ri­ously poor at in­ter­nal­iz­ing ab­stract risks. We tend to re­gard fly­ing as in­her­ently riskier than driv­ing though we know we’re far more likely to die in a traf­fic ac­ci­dent than in an air­plane crash. An evo­lu­tion­ary bias against ab­stract risks causes us to ig­nore sim­ple steps that would im­prove our odds.

Two doc­tors at the Sun­ny­brook Health Sciences Cen­tre in Toronto have pro­duced some cal­cu­la­tions that sug­gest a slight de­crease in av­er­age driv­ing speed on our streets and high­ways would dra­mat­i­cally cut the num­ber of ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dents and their as­so­ci­ated costs in prop­erty dam­age and hu­man in­jury and death.

In a study pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Med­i­cal De­ci­sion Mak­ing, they es­ti­mate that just a three kilo­me­tre per hour re­duc­tion in av­er­age ve­hi­cles speeds would re­sult in about 9,000 fewer deaths an­nu­ally from U.S. traf­fic ac­ci­dents. The United States has about 15 times more traf­fic deaths than Canada.

In an at­tempt to bring the high­way risk and safety mes­sage closer to the in­di­vid­ual, the study au­thors cal­cu­late that ev­ery hour of driv­ing de­creases one’s life ex­pectancy by 20 min­utes – a rather alarm­ing ra­tio, when you think about it. In fact, it’s about dou­ble a com­mon fig­ure stated for smok­ing: 11 min­utes of life ex­pectancy lost for ev­ery cig­a­rette smoked.

Even per­son­al­iz­ing the statis­tics like this prob­a­bly doesn’t in it­self prompt any changes in be­hav­iour, though the min­utes-per-cig­a­rette pro­jec­tion could be use­ful as a psy­cho­log­i­cal mo­ti­va­tor for some­one try­ing to quit.

The other prob­lem with statis­tics is that we un­der­stand in­tu­itively that th­ese are aver­ages ap­plied across pop­u­la­tions. We all know some­one who lived a healthy life­style and con­tracted can­cer at an early age; con­versely, we all know some­one who burned the can­dle at both ends but lived into old age. Psy­cho­log­i­cally, we seem to be pre­dis­posed to op­ti­mism, fig­ur­ing in­di­vid­u­ally that we’re in the per­centile that won’t have to pay for in­dul­gences and risky be­hav­iours.

Ra­tio­nal re­sponse to risk pro­jec­tions there­fore re­quires a com­bi­na­tion of in­di­vid­ual and col­lec­tive action. As in­di­vid­u­als we can quit smok­ing, but we can also make laws and pro­grams to en­cour­age this be­hav­iour across the pop­u­la­tion. Sim­i­larly, a per­sua­sive case can be made for laws and poli­cies aimed at re­duc­ing ve­hi­cle speeds for two main rea­sons: safety and fuel con­ser­va­tion – the lat­ter of­fer­ing the bonus of re­duced green­house gas emis­sions. Ve­hi­cle fuel ef­fi­ciency de­creases dra­mat­i­cally above 100 km/h, yet not only do we spend bil­lions build­ing high­ways to en­able high le­gal speeds but we then we fail to en­force the posted lim­its.

Big prob­lems call for big so­lu­tions but for starters we could be pick­ing the low-hang­ing fruit like a moderate de­crease in driv­ing speeds.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.