Not All Tragedies are Preventable

Hi Readers! While we’re on the topic of crib recalls, as well as when parenting intervention is called for and all that, I just had to link to this phenomenal essay from The Economist: “Not All Tragedies are Preventable.” As it says in the opening paragraph:

LEGISLATION that bears the name of a victim of a particular crime or accident is often bad legislation. That’s because lawmakers, feeling the pressure of an emotionally-charged constituency, tend to overreact, instituting a broad and aggressive policy in response to a specific, perhaps rare problem. And so it is with the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act of 2008, which directs the secretary of transportation to take measures to protect children in and around parked vehicles. The act is named after a two-year old who was tragically run over by his father as he backed into his driveway in 2002. Over the weekend the Wall Street Journal reported on the latest outcome of this legislation: starting in September 2012 new cars will be required to expand their field of view in an effort to reduce blind spots on the sides and rear of vehicles. This will effectively require carmakers to install rear-mounted video cameras.

Later on, the article talks about whether it really makes sense to mandate a “safety” measure that is expensive and saves few lives, considering the trade-off costs:

If the cost of the regulation is borne by carmakers it will… reallocate resources at the government’s behest that might otherwise be used to increase driver safety, improve fuel efficiency, or pay for employees’ health benefits….. More importantly, if we’re thinking about the children, this $2-billion-a-year tax equivalent would do more good if it were directed at improving the nutrition of youngsters from poor families, paying for research into and treatment of common childhood diseases or expanding programmes like SCHIP.

It’s always easier to think of a single tragedy —  a “poster child” — than it is to wrap our minds around a bigger problem like autism, or failing schools, or a lack of public park space. And it also risks sounding heartless, since we can SEE the poster child and we can’t see “a lack of arts education.” But I agree with this Economist writer: Often enough, legislation that focuses on a rare and horrifying tragedy does not improve the world that much, and may take our attention and money away from bigger problems that just don’t stab us through the heart. — Lenore

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