Risk compensation

From ArticleWorld

Risk compensation is the phenomenon whereby individuals behave cautiously in situations where the risk is seen as high but less so when the risk has been lessened, or perceived as such. This behaviour has been amply illustrated in the studies of the effects of safety features such as seat belts, antilock braking systems and bicycle helmets in that the expected decrease in accidents and fatalities failed to materialize. Given the fact that the features were indeed saving lives in the situations they had been designed for, something else was responsible for accident statistics remaining more or less stationery.

Seat belts

In 1981, a paper was published by John Adams comparing road accident figures from eighteen countries, some with and others without seat belt legislation. He found that there was very little difference between them.

After the seat belt law was passed in Britain at about the same time, it was found that though there were fewer drivers killed and injured in accidents, there were more pedestrians, cyclists and rear seat passengers killed than in the previous 75 years. This would indicate that the drivers felt, and were, more protected by the fact of their wearing seatbelts, the other people on the street, unfortunately, were not.

Antilock brakes and cycle helmets

Much the same response was found after the installation of antilock brakes. Drivers were found to drive faster, follow closer and brake later; a classic example of risk compensation. Unfortunately, the same was found for cycle helmets in that adults and children wearing helmets while cycling compensated for the perceived decrease in risk by exhibiting more dangerous behaviour.