The ironic peril of fake danger

They’re called ‘lifesaving stickers’. For as little as $10 you can buy stickers of children to place on the side of your wheelie bins. The aim of these stickers is to momentarily deceive drivers into thinking there are children playing or walking on the side of the road. On face value it seems harmless and innocent enough. Appeal to a driver’s emotional and instinctive reactions to keep them alert and paying attention on residential streets. But there are two major issues that I can see with these stickers.

ai-sticker3

At a quick glance, some of these stickers can look deceptively realistic.

Firstly, imagine a situation where you are following behind another driver, down a quiet residential street. You spot one of these stickers on the side of a bin just up ahead. But the driver in front of you doesn’t see it…until the last minute. I have seen these stickers on bins when driving around, and some of them can be deceptively realistic at a quick glance. In an automated response to what the driver thinks is a small child running onto the road, he slams on the brakes and comes to a complete halt. You, as the driver behind, are caught off guard. You knew it was just a sticker, and perhaps assumed that the driver in front did as well. As a result, your car slams into his rear.

 

Now before any of you talk about leaving safe gaps and the importance of being alert, let’s just accept the fact that many drivers do not leave safe gaps and are not always

tailgating-1

Let’s face it. Many drivers do not leave a safe gap when driving.

alert. Accepting this as a reality, and still advocating the use of these stickers is essentially suggesting that you are willing to accept a potentially higher rate of traffic accidents, to save children that are not really there. Advocating for these stickers, and arguing that drivers should drive more competently is an exercise in futility. Not to mention it is also self-defeating. If drivers were more competent, there would not be any need for these stickers in the first place. So the reason these stickers are ‘needed’ are the exact reasons why they are also a danger to motorists.

 

My second point relates to a less obvious, longer-term concern. Let’s imagine a world where everyone decided to adopt the use of these stickers. You drive down a residential street, lined with hundreds of plastic children either side. It wouldn’t take long before you begin to tune out to the stickers and not even notice them anymore. Eventually, a real child may run onto the road. But you have seen so many fake children posing a fake danger over the previous months and years, that you no longer consider the probability that a real child may run onto the road. Your reaction time may increase as you initially disregard the hazard, before recognising the reality of the situation. This is not a manufactured concern.

The notion that drivers eventually tend to ignore various safety measures has been well studied and accepted over the years. The concept is called the Peltzman effect and it suggests that long-term exposure to increased safety regulations results in drivers compensating with higher risk taking activities. Interestingly, many also believe that the Peltzman effect has a redistributive quality, whereby the consequences of risk taking activities become increasingly borne by innocent parties. I highly encourage

seatbelt

Proponents of the Peltzman effect have argued that the introduction of seat-belts, and the improved safety that they offer, has encouraged drivers to take on more risk, negating their impacts on safety.

anyone who has the time and inclination to read more about this theory. It is one of the underlying rationales I regularly draw upon when arguing against the over-regulation of driving.

 

My irritation with these ridiculous contemporary ‘safety’ campaigns is two-fold. First, they advocate and pursue safety for pedestrians and other non-motorists, at the expense of the safety of motorists. Dangers are created for motorists, but the proponents of such campaigns justify this danger (to the extent they do not necessarily recognise it) by their elusive quest to keep pedestrians safe. Second, these efforts remain completely ignorant to their long-term negative impacts on driver behaviour.

By itself, this campaign may not be a huge issue. But it is symbolic of a broader trend towards driver safety that I don’t believe is effective and may actually be harmful in the longer-term.

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