We have previously written about how we accept a certain level of risk then use risk protection measures not to be safer, but to increase our risk taking so our net level of acceptable risk stays the same. That is risk homeostasis.
It has been broadly reported recently that there has been a huge increase in traffic fatalities in the United States in the first half of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015: 10.4%. Understandably, many are gravely concerned.
How does this relate to risk homeostasis? By any estimation, vehicles and highways have become safer. Significant effort and resources have gone into design improvements that have increased safety. Cars have airbags, ABS breaking systems, crumple zones and even some now have automatic emergency driving features to help avoid accidents. Highways have many more barriers that give way on impact to reduce the chances of injuries or fatalities. Yet traffic deaths are up dramatically.
This is risk homeostasis. The safer things become, the more we take risks. Knowing that we are less likely to die while driving a safer modern vehicle, we take more risks such as texting while driving. Sad but true.
The administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently announced a goal of eliminating traffic fatalities in the U.S. – all of them – within 30 years. A laudable goal but exceedingly unlikely. All the safety features in the world will not change human nature.