Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Risk Analysis

A professor from CMU decided to tackle the question of "Just how unsafe is a recalled Toyota, really?" You're probably going to be shocked, but apparently, not very much...
In the U.S., there is a little more than one fatality for every 100 million miles driven. The average U.S. vehicle logs about 13,000 miles each year. Based on these averages, for the 2.3 million Toyotas being recalled, there are about 340 fatalities every year for causes unrelated to the accelerator. The accelerator problem is adding about six deaths every year to this total — meaning that the accelerator problem is increasing the driving risk by about 2 percent.  
Two percent overall. That's not very much. To put that in perspective,  eating hamburgers carries a risk of mortality of 1.9 x10 ^-7 per hamburger. Or, if 10 million people eat a hamburger today, that translates to 1.9 dead people from food poisoning. It seems we should be more panicked about food handling. Or, we could recognize that either of these activities carry relatively low risk.

And then, in the same article,
Consumers also may want to reconsider parking their recalled Toyotas until repairs have been made. "Replacing driving by walking really increases the risk of dying," Fischbeck said. "Walking a mile is 19 times or 1,900 percent more dangerous than driving a mile in a recalled Toyota. Driving while using a cell phone would increase risk much more than the chance of having a stuck accelerator."
But, we can't have the media putting things in perspective. That would make too much sense. No, shocking stories about horribly dangerous autos sells far more ads than a dispassionate evaluation of the risk. Strangely, the real risks - distracted, drowsy, or drunk driving - get comparatively little coverage.

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