Friday, February 09, 2007

Safety In Numbers

The vast majority of humanity is not stupid. We certainly make mistakes and are sometimes careless, but we are not stupid. Certainly not when it comes to our personal safety. If you bought that you are, apparently, wrong.

New York senator Carl Kruger knows better. "We have a major public safety crisis," he said. What is this crisis? Drunk driving? Terrorism? Nothing so obvious. The new culprit of our time is far more user-friendly. It's the iPod, that dreaded device so alluring that people become brainwashed and stumble into on-coming traffic.

Kruger wants to save us from ourselves (or rather our catchy tunes) by proposing a bill making it illegal to use any electronic device while crossing a street. Violators will be punished with a $100 fine. I personally don't care enough about my life recall childhood lessons about looking both ways, but $100? That's 100 frosties!

Over the past five months, Kruger has personally heard of as many as three iPod-related deaths. Maybe that fine should be $110 just to be sure.


Anonymous said...

I've seen more than my share of people almost get nailed by cars while on their cell phone or iPod. I even stopped some of them. Kruger has the right idea. Even if the execution is less than perfect. What Kruger wants to do is prevent accidents. Accidents cost money. Are you saying it's wrong to want to keep one person from costing another person's money?


David said...

I am not saying that at all. I'm saying its wrong to punish people because they do things that other people cannot handle. It's not the iPod that makes people be careless. Those people you're talking about are already careless.

I doubt Kruger wants to prevent accidents. But I am certain he wants to get re-elected. Preventing accidents doesn't help him nearly as much as making it look like that's what he wants. Especially to those who believe most of humanity would be better off with a babysitter when they cross the street.

Anonymous said...

Then what about other safety laws like seatbelts or helmets? If you don't do that you're careless but if you get in an accident the other guy pays more. Why should they pay for your carelessness?

"I doubt Kruger wants to prevent accidents."
And what is the basis of this?


Anonymous said...

And when I say "pays more" I mean in terms of insurance, guilt, and if it was his/her fault criminal charges.

David said...

What Kruger wants is minor point, I'm just saying that we shouldn't assume his actions are nobel. He is still human.

To be complete, only if you cause the accident, and the victim isn't wearing a seltbelt, you pay more. But why should people be forced to make it easier for you to pay for accidents you cause? In effect, Jason, you are citing laws that make it cheaper for people to cause accidents.

This is the Peltzman effect: nice-sounding regulation can, in practice, create the opposite intended effect. Sam Peltzman discovered it when he studied accident rates after the government instituted a flurry of new safety laws. What he found was that accident-related deaths were flat--the law didn't change anything.

This is because safer cars means accidents are cheaper; people allow themselves to become more careless. Thus accidents go up. More accidents means more deaths, but safer cars mean fewer deaths. Pedestrian deaths, however, skyrocketed and overall the roads became less safe.

What Kruger is promoting isn't quite as big as all those regulations but it can still develop unintended consequences, notably you're punishing people who can already look both ways across the street and you're making it harder for them to pay for any medical/damage bills others might incure from their carelessness. Laws do not seamlessly translate into safety, even if they are called "safety laws."

Anonymous said...

You've gotten lost David, the law is about pedestrians using being distracted and getting nailed by a car. In most areas, pedestrians have the right of way. So if they get hit, it's automatically the driver's fault.

Ever hear of auto insurance? They use any excuse to raise their rates. If you get in an accident, even if it isn't your fault. Your rates can still go up because you're in a higher risk area. Worse, other people's rates go up not only because they were in the same category as you before the accident, but because the insurance company has to make up for that loss somehow.

Your claim that the law would make it cheaper to have accidents fails when you consider how the insurance companies work and the emotional toll accidents can take. You see, even if you're not at fault you still pay. If there's a fatality, you really pay.

As for Kruger, I've noticed you tend to assume that companies automatically do what's best for the company. But if they're run by people, shouldn't they be held to the same standards you do Kruger?


David said...

Company heads do what is best for themselves, as do politicans. What's best for a company head is generally what's best for a company--extra profits and so forth. What's best for a politican is what maximizes their votes. However, there's no easy way for people to tell if a new policy is good for them because there are no prices and profits, only perceptions. It's expensive to verify claims of prosperity so people are rationally ignorant. Remember what a politician says is merely what they said. Kruger wins if people think he cares, even if he doesn't or his ideas make things worse.

Speaking of profit motives, insurance companies know they best way to get business is to have a combination of low rates and good service. Two things on that. First, Progressive (and I suspect other companies will soon follow) now offers "accident forgiveness," an accident you cause won't instantly mean your rates go up. I'm sure there are loopholes, but it shows your overly simple model needs some smarting up.

Second, insurance rates tend to go up because the driver, in pesdestrian cases, is held liable for damages always, meaning if you cause the accident the company must pay. Can you blame them for wanting to raise your rates? I can't.

It would be far better to change the liablity laws. If a pesdestrian wanders out into a busy street--iPod or no--and gets hit by a car, they should be liable for damages. This way we punish those that cause problems without punishing those that can still recall basic lessons from childhood.

Anonymous said...

"What's best for a company head is generally what's best for a company"
You're kidding right? A company head wants what is best for themselves and if it's also good for the company all the better. But that doesn't happen as often as you think. You're giving them far too much credit. You see, department heads can get new jobs and are often given generous severance packages. They don't have much motivation to do what's best for the company. Yahoo, Microsoft, Home Depot, Ford all have department heads that don't seem to care about the company as a whole as long as they get theirs. They have their pet projects, office politics, stubbron ideas and preconceptions, even flat out discrimination and bigotry (something you approve of I believe). If someone's idea is bad, they try and dodge responsibility, if it's good they take more credit than they deserve. If things go really bad, they can find a job elsewhere. It's too easy for them to blame other people for their failures so they don't look bad when interviewing.

Insurance companies put people in groups and assign them rates based on that group. You're a single male under the age of 30. So your rate is based on what other single males under 30 do. If they are reckless and cause accidents, your rates go up. What you're doing is saying it's OK for a company to make pay more for something that isn't your fault, but it's not OK for the government try and reduce rates for everyone by making things safer. Which childhood lesson taught you that?

David said...

If you truly believe what you are saying about company heads is true, then you must also believe the vast majority of stockholders are complete idiots--they approve these pay structures, after all. Let me remind you that CEOs are not kings; someone has to hire them.

If insurance companies knew their customers perfectly, you can be sure there would be a unique insurance rate for everyone. In fact, your perception of actuaries is grossly oversimplified. Even when you first start out with a new insurance company they take more care in customizing your pay structure, including academic record and driving past. State Farm even gave a discount if I watched a movie (which I of course did). And even if that's not enough for you, no one is forced to have insurance (unless there's a law requiring it, which is ultimately the government forcing you, not the firms).

By simplifying the world to government making insurance cheaper, you ignore all the problems (costs, unintended consequences, ethical issues of punishing people who did no wrong) with the regulation. You could also say that paving the streets with gold is a good idea too, simply because it would look nice. It would look nice, but that itself would be a very sloppy arguement.

So again, if politicians really want to make people safer and they really want to make insurance cheaper, why not adjust the liablity laws even a little? Because it's about the perception, not protection and prices.