Fw: urbancyclist-uk: Problem estates? The confusion of public and private behavio
----- Original Message -----
From: "Jeremy Parker" <JeremyParker@...>
To: "urbancyclist-uk" <urbancyclist-uk@...>
Sent: Monday, June 03, 2002 9:12 AM
Subject: urbancyclist-uk: Problem estates? The confusion of public and
From the urbancyclist-uk e-mail list
Simon Baddeley asks:
>Most of us continue to be puzzled as to why our society continues so
>tolerant of feckless driving...
Chauncy Starr's classic paper about risk had a theory about that.
[Chauncy Starr, "Social Benefit versus Technological Risk", Science, vol
165, p1232, 19 Sept 1969]
The paper was written more than thirty years ago, but is stil worthwhile
reading, even today.
I quote from his conclusions:
"(i) The indications are that the public is willing to accept "voluntary"
risks roughly 1000 times greater than "involuntary" risks.
(ii) The statistical risk of death from disease appears to be a
psychological yardstick for establishing the level of acceptablity of other
(iii) The acceptability of risk appears to be crudely proportional to the
third power of the benefits (real or imagined)
(iv) The social acceptance of risk is directly influenced by the public
awareness of the benefits of the activity, as determined by advertising,
usefulness, and the number of people participating."
To make that theory work for cars you would have to assume, I would
suppose, that people believe being a pedestrian to be a "voluntary risk",
even in those countries with very few cars and very many pedestrians.
>Is it possible that a powerful unconscious (unconscious because to
>it publicly even to one self would be unacceptable) source of the dynamic
>conservatism that affects our society when road safety measures are
>contemplated is that we do not mind the statistics as they stand,
I have to confess that the hazard that bad driving creates to me, or to the
people, adult or child, that I know, is not something that worries me
particularly, when I (or they) drive, or walk, or ride a bike. However,
neither do any other hazards worry me especially, except in very abnormal
situations. I don't go out of my way to avoid hazards, and I don't go out
of my way to seek them out. In that, I think I'm the same as most other
There's "Smeed's law" relating car accident rate to car ownership. That
doesn't tell you what people think, but it does give some indication about
whether anyone has **done** anything effective, over the last eighty years,
about the situation [ref: John Adams, "Risk", p137]. It seems to show that
people are the same the whole world over, except that Brit's have always
had slightly fewer accidents than they "should", and Germans slightly more.
With regard to the courts, perhaps you need to look at civl law, as well as
criminal. The USA is instructive, with 50 different legal systems all
converging on the same view, which is much the same as Britain's: the
concept of fault is needed, to see which insurance company pays, but that's
about the extent of it.
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