Archive for July 7th, 2008

“Cars kill more people than handguns do…”

That line comes from Dan Gardner’s Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear, a wonderfully provocative, engagingly written study of the psychology of risk. It’s not available quite yet in the U.S., but you can preorder the book from Amazon in the U.S. (where it has a slightly different title and cover).

One of the already shopworn canards of election season here in the U.S. is the refrain “we live in a dangerous world,” or “we live in dangerous times.” No one ever goes to make the point that underlies Gardner’s book: Just how less dangerous the world now is (for those in the developed world, at least). A baby born in England in 1900, he notes, could expect to live to an average of 46 years. Her great-grandchild, born in 1980, would see an average life expectancy of 74 years. The great-great grandchild, born in 1980 — almost eight decades of expected life. While on the subject of England, he notes the murder rate in the Middle Ages there was fourteen times what it is now.

I could go on quoting interesting things from the book, but as one chapter of Traffic focuses on risk on the road, I found one of Gardner’s footnotes particularly interesting. Describing a media panic that emerged in the wake of two tragic incidents in Canada in which drivers were killed by truck tires that had come loose on the highway, he writes: “Reporting proliferated and even trivial incidents in which no one was endangered made the news. It seemed the roads were in chaos. New safety regulations were passed and, just as quickly as it appeared, the crisis vanished.”

But what was the result of all the attention? Was a real risk brought to a close, or did a remote risk continue to strike more or less at random? The number of incidents, and fatalities, notes Gardner, more or less fluctuated up and down, following no real pattern (save perhaps the regression to the mean), with no fatalities one year, two the next. As he writes, “before the panic, tires came loose occasionally and there was a tiny risk to motorists. The same was true during the crisis and afterward. All that changed was appearance and disappearance of the feedback loop.” For a while, it seemed as if there was a “flying truck tire” epidemic on Canadian roads, but it was merely an artifact of disproportionate media attention — attention which may have been better paid to the larger sources of risk, like alcohol and speed.

Posted on Monday, July 7th, 2008 at 11:06 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
Comments Off on “Cars kill more people than handguns do…”. Click here to leave a comment.
Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas

September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)

Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
McMurrin Lectureship

April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Austin, Texas

Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013 “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Grand Rapids MI



July 2008

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