The Automobile Paradox
The Automobile Paradox has three parts. The first part: Of all the costs associated with driving an automobile, the most serious is fatality. Yet, ironically, the public most readily accepts this cost, combined with its risk of occurrence. This is counterintuitive. Why should people ignore the combination of cost and risk that is most threatening? Is ignorance of the facts the answer? Or is there a kind of nonrationality operating here that is strangely persuasive?
A sense of inevitability is perhaps the basic reason why people ignore the risks of driving. The second component of the Paradox is this belief that, in the aggregate, accidents just happen. There is nothing much that can be done about them other than to stay sober, educate young drivers, and wear safety belts.
But closely associated with this notion of inevitability is the confirmed opinion of every driver and passenger that accidents will happen not to them but to somebody else. This is the third part of the Automobile Paradox. So there is a curious ambivalence regarding death on the highway. It is inevitable that someone will die because the cost is unavoidable, but the risk is negligible for the individual because the individual thinks that someone else is likely to bear it. So the benefits of the automobile are thought by each driver to outweigh the costs because nothing can be done to eliminate the risk of accident, and, in any case, that risk will be assumed by someone else. —CD
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