In 1976, economist Sam Peltzman wrote about a phenomenon that is now called the Peltzman Effect, which hypothesized that people tend to react to a safety regulation by increasing other risky behavior, thus offsetting some or all of the benefit of the regulation. For example, building highways straighter, wider, better-marked, and with more guardrails and rumble strips have made them safer to drive upon, but they have created complacent drivers who now drive with a cell phone in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, steering the vehicle with a knee while occasionally glancing at the road ahead. When safety innovations make an automobile safer and easier to drive, drivers respond by driving faster and more aggressively. Conversely, when drivers are forced to be more attentive, they tend to drive more safely.
Drivers, who rely upon the technology in vehicles to handle driving challenges, tend to lose, or never attain, the driving skills required to handle their vehicles when the technology fails or when emergency situations occur that exceed the ability of the technology to handle. Thus, on icy roads, you tend to see more four-wheel drive vehicles stuck or overturned than you do ordinary two-wheel drive vehicles. The driver’s of the four-wheel drive vehicles feel invincible and do not know how to handle their vehicles once they have exceeded the vehicles’ abilities. Traffic circles and squares, which demand a driver’s full attention, are both safer and better at handling large volumes of traffic than traditional four-way intersections with traffic lights. Traffic circles force drivers to be more alert and communicate with hand signals and eye contact rather than just relaxing and letting the traffic signals to do all the work. In 1967, when Sweden switched from driving on the left to driving on the right, instead of accident rates increasing, they dropped noticeably. Familiarity breeds slackness, and regular challenges encourage mindfulness and attention. The same holds true for pedestrians who are more cautious away from crosswalks than within them because they do not expect cars to stop for them. In athletics, research has shown that protection sometimes leads to more risk-taking; skiers who wear helmets ski faster than those who do not. When wearing safety equipment that is supposed to offer protection against injury, instead of using caution and being careful, athletes tend to take more chances than they would if not wearing the safety equipment.
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