Why You Willingly Accept the Deaths of Innocent People

Despite the provocative title, this post is not political. Further, despite your political affiliation, the title "Why You Willingly Accept the Deaths of Innocent People" is perfectly accurate.

Most of you have cars. Most of you drive cars at times that you don't need to. Even I, who drives far less than most people, am guilty of this; I like the convenience. However, every time we hop in our car, we accept the fact that there is a non-zero chance that someone will die as a result.

Economists have long known that there's a simple way of eliminating vehicular-related deaths: eliminate vehicles. Of course, this trades some deaths for other deaths. If all vehicles were eliminated tomorrow, the economy would be destroyed, people would starve, critical medical supplies wouldn't be transported, people injured in accidents couldn't get to hospitals in time, etc. However, even if you cite this as a reason we still need cars, you probably hop in your car to drive to a restaurant, a beach retreat, visiting friends, etc. These are all "optional" trips (though still important to the economy) which significantly increase the chances that innocent people will be killed. Though we rarely think about this explicitly, we silently accept these deaths as the price we pay for this convenience.

Estimates of automobile fatalities in the USA vary between 30,000 and 40,000 deaths per year. This is a hard number to judge as this probably doesn't count pollution-related deaths or injuries which kill people much later, but let's settle on the 40,000 number for a moment.

The automobile industry is offering more and more life-saving features in their cars. Anti-lock brakes, seat belts, and airbags only touch the surface (incidentally, SUVs have been found to be more dangerous than most vehicles because of the increased odds of the other driver dying -- minivans are much safer). However, manufacturers are working on new lifesaving technologies. Imagine that your car warns you when you're traveling too close to someone. Your car won't start if you're intoxicated. Some cars beep if they think you're nodding off. New technologies are even being invented which can detect if your car veers outside of the lines.

Now imagine that 10 years from now we have a host of lifesaving devices and automobile related deaths are cut in half (unlike victims, I suppose). Instead of 40,000 deaths, we'll have 20,000. Typically we blame drivers for automobile deaths, but when cars take over more responsibility, problems will happen. Imagine you're tailgating and your car applies the break and someone behind you hits you, causing an accident. Imagine that you're swerving outside of the lines to avoid a pedestrian and your car tries to correct. Imagine that the ABS fails and you, not knowing how pump your brakes, hits the car in front of you. Imagine that you swerve outside the lines and your car doesn't correct or beep and warn you. In short, there are tons of ways in which fail-safe devices can fail.

That's the problem. The manufacturers won't be able to think of every contingency and all software has bugs. So by making a car much safer and reducing deaths, all of a sudden people who have lost family members will be more likely to blame the car's manufacturer than drivers. Unless we can figure out a way to handle this appropriately, there could be many, many lawsuits. As a result, automobile manufacturers will be put in a curious situation. If the lawsuits stemming from their life-saving devices are too expensive, it might be better for them to remove the devices, despite knowing that more people will die. But then they'll get sued by people whose cars don't have the devices. Maybe it's better to not add too many safety devices in the first place?

Think this is far-fetched? It's already happening.

It is clear that airbags save lives. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, airbags have saved 6,856 American lives. However, over the last 10 years, airbags have also killed 175 people.

Lawyers for the families of those injured or killed point to numerous confidential settlements reached between automakers and plaintiffs. They claim these settlements prove that automakers know airbags are defective.

The more safety devices there are the more lawsuits there will be no matter how many lives are saved.

  • Current Mood: pessimistic pessimistic
Crap. I thought it said, "Will you..."

thanks for ruining my day. fucker.
More good reasons to not have a car. :)

I know I am in the minority not having owned one since 1994, but it's still important to me.
I also eagerly accept the deaths of innocent animals, so's I can eats em.
I knew you were gonna somehow relate this to software :)
This was touched on in an article from slashdot (Today's drivers suffer without high tech systems.)

Oh, there's a slight flaw in the logic of the 40,000 innocent people. How many of those people were themselves drivers? If they were the drivers then they themselves are equally guilty of taking the risks with their own and other peoples' lives. So it's not really 40,000. Of course, one could argue it's not a matter of numbers. On the other other hand I wonder how many people I will be killed by freak weather caused by the global warming caused by the production of the electricity that I used to write this post.
Excessive litigation seems to be another facet of the problem, not just in consumer products like cars but in medicine too. It's resulted in an environment where as a doctor you can't survive without mounds of legal insurance, the costs of which are reflected in the cost of medical care so that fewer and people can afford it (except that most people don't pay doctors anymore, they have HMO-style health insurance that they expect to pay the doctors, but insurance is getting more and more expensive so that fewer and fewer people can afford it anyway [certainly not small businesses for their employees, not on top of social security tax] demonstrating that the costs of such a litigous society don't really get absorbed anywhere, they just get pushed around like a lump under a rug.)

Saying we shouldn't have as many fail-safe devices because they are imperfect sounds to me like saying we shouldn't have as many doctors because they can screw up. My hunch is that there is probably a middle way between the fail-safe devices that make a car much safer on net, and others that coddle a driver or pose too much of a risk of their own.

Personally, I wish I had the resources to take one of the extreme driving courses at, e.g. Skip Barber. In an ideal world, I think all drivers should be trained for numerous hours on VR equipment as soon as the technology is there, driving both old (non-ABS-equipped) and current cars so that the right behavior in an emergency becomes instinctive.
Adding a bit...

In Norway(pop 4.500.000 approx) we have about 250 - 350 fatalities each year.
(Multiply up to compare it with the USA if you want to)
Of course, here we have a seatbelt-usage around 90 - 95% outside of towns, and probably about 80% usage within towns.

Volvo (who pioneered the seatbelt as we know it) already offers breathalyzer lockouts as an option, and Citroën is offering a device to warn you if you drift out of your lane.
Citroën has also come up with a new system to save pedestrians, too. When you hit them, the bonnet will pop up a few inches. This will lift the pedestrian so much that he won't impact on whatever is usually directly under the bonnet. (Their car was the first to get an 'adequate' score for pedestrians in the Euro-encap tests.)

Oh, and cars like the Hummer H2 and the Ford F-series may end up costing 180.000NOK ($25.000) more here in Norway due to proposed tax-changes.
(Well, all cars in that weight-bracket which could earlier be modified and end up as a '3.5ton lorry')
I can't say I'll miss seeing those horrors on our narrow, twisting roads....
(I've been forced into the ditch once by a moron with a 'too big for life' SUV already)
Sigh. You really know how to take the fun out of driving don't you? So many pedestrians, so little time! :)
"This is a hard number to judge as this probably doesn't count pollution-related deaths..."

I'm confused - should I not be drinking the water that comes out of the tailpipe?