Monday, December 20, 2010

Sometimes the biggest factor is the least important

This WSJ editorial tries to make the case that we shouldn't care about distracted driving in a strange way. The author argues that even though distracted driving fatalities are up, overall fatalities are down. But then he seems to argue that  makes is that growth in fatal motorcycle accidents lead all categories for increases in road deaths and that many of these deaths involve inexperienced cyclists.

So what? I don't say that to seem insensitive, but someone who chooses to ride on a motorcycle, and eventually gets in a wreck is often only hurting (sometimes fatally) himself. When motorcycle fights car, car wins. In economic jargon, there is seldom an externality involved with this sort of accident. The driver of the motorcycle knows riding is riskier, and chooses to do so. On the other hand, when someone is dicking around on his cell phone (let's say while driving a Yukon or comparable grocery-and-kiddie wagon SUV) he puts innocent, responsible drivers at risk. Policy makers should only intervene if an argument can be made that there is a social cost (or externality) to certain types of behavior. I don't see that argument in the case of motorcycles.

So, motorcycle accidents are accounting for the biggest increase in driving fatalities, but there is no theoretical reason that policymakers to give a rat's ass. My guess is that Mr. White and his boss at WSJ, Mr. Murdoch are simply reveling in finding some research that promotes their supposedly pro-liberty (of a certain sort) agenda, and they would probably claim that no policy action is warranted in the case of Motorcycle OR distracted driver traffic deaths. If that's the case, why not just repeal all drunk-driving laws? It seems highly unlikely that Mr. White would support this proposal. Given that the impairment from cell use rivals that of intoxication, that seems to be the better place for policy.

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