I am safe enough, thank you. I don’t need to be any safer.

A Common Sense look at the safety-Nazis

By Quentin Langley

Dateline 29 April 2005

I am fed up. Fed up with people trying to make me safer. Every time I travel by train there is an announcement that there are safety instructions in every car. “In the event of a derailment,” they probably say, “normal procedure is to die pretty much immediately. If you survive, however, it is probably better to crawl out of the train as soon as the firemen have cut you free”.

I can just about stomach the fact that there are lines behind which I must stand – for my own safety – on station platforms. But why have the lines been removed and repainted a foot further from the edge of the platform? What has made passing trains more dangerous than they were a few years ago? They are not, I can assure you, travelling any faster.

If I decide to avoid the railroad and travel by plane, the situation is even worse. An extra hour of check in time at every airport. Extra lines to stand in, because we used to have a real shortage of lines at airports, didn’t we? And if I have the temerity to buy a one way ticket, I am always selected for special treatment. When you are selected, you are “it” for the day. You are pulled out of every line for more intimate searching of your person and belongings. Sixteen months ago, at Christmas, a learning mat my wife and I had bought for our two-year-old nephew was subjected to swab analysis? Is the TSA fearful of attacks by the Toddler Liberation Front? Perhaps, because it is designed to teach the little chap numbers they thought it was a weapon of math instruction?

If I want to drive, things are not quite as bad. Though cars are pretty dangerous, at least compared with planes and trains. But people react to the regulations differently, which is one reason we don’t have to queue up for hours before we can get into our cars. Some air passengers genuinely feel safer because the TSA has inconvenienced them. And this, of course, is the purpose. The regulations are not to make us actually safer. They are to make us feel safer. Motorists, by contrast, are generally just irritated by traffic laws.

This is an important distinction, and one that has great relevance to the huge degree of regulation of trains and planes. Most people feel safer in their cars than they do on planes, even though the statistics are absolutely clear that planes and trains are safer than cars. The reason is simply this: traffic statistics refer to the danger to the average motorist, and 90% of people believe that they are better than average drivers.

That’s why they give us safety instructions on planes and trains. People want to believe that it is not a matter of blind chance, and if they are more diligent at following the instructions than others, they will have a better chance of surviving.

The problem is, it isn’t true. So just stop bugging me with safety instructions and let me take my own chances.

Copyright (C) Quentin Langley 29 April 2005

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