- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (February 3, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1857280687
- ISBN-13: 978-1857280685
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #909,399 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The reader cannot help but benefit from Adam's wisdom, and he will enjoy the experience as well. The book is writen so well that I finished it with sadness; I was hoping that it would go on for at least another 100 pages. Having read scores of risk related articles and books, I can attest to the rarity of this feeling--I am usually begging for the end at about page 10. It takes great ideas and a masterful pen to acheive this, and Adams has both in abundance. If you are in the risk or safety professions (or work in the political realm) this book is required reading.
Adams opens for the lay reader a window into the jargon-laden field of risk assessment and risk management. He brings to the table two qualities usually firmly segregated in the literature: a solid, rationalist facility with the traditional tools of the trade (scientific method, mathematics, statistics, data visualization), and an honest and humane assessment of the incalculable and the social (human variability, social equity, adaptive feedback, and chaotic systems).
Adams' work is brilliantly contrarian, neither eccentric nor slipshod. He challenges the conventional dogma of regulatory safety authorities the world over; he cites verifiable figures from reputable sources to show that the authoritarian approach to risk management has not lived up to its overconfident initial promises. Further, he documents specific cases in which this failure has been denied and concealed, rather than admitted, confronted and used as a springboard to new approaches and more creative thinking.
Adams' particular field of expertise is road/traffic safety, which he had studied for some 15 years at the time of writing. He uses several examples from this realm in the book. He recounts the peculiar history, for example, of mandatory seat belt legislation. Of the eighty principalities and regions which enacted such laws, over twenty years later only one (the UK) offers time-series data which support the initial claims for national traffic fatality reduction.
Yet throughout the industrial world, the axiom "seatbelts save lives" is just that -- axiomatic. The average reader may find this story very disturbing; the beneficial result of seatbelt legislation is almost a religious dogma for residents of the industrial West. Yet it is hard to dismiss Adams' sober collection and presentation of data. His numbers are not from outlaw or revisionist sources; they are official statistics from the same countries which passed the laws.
It's obvious (and crash tests demonstrate) that seatbelt-type restraints must prevent vehicle occupants from rattling around inside a car during a crash, and thereby mitigate injury and/or fatality. Adams asks, therefore, how it can possibly happen that there were not sudden, dramatic, documented reductions in total traffic fatalities for whole nations, after seatbelt laws were enforced?
In answering this and other similar questions of "safety engineering" Adams introduces us to a fascinating problem in risk management theory: "risk homeostasis" or "risk compensation". Individuals, he argues, have a personal "risk thermostat", a risk level at which they are comfortable. If their sense of personal safety is enhanced by protective gear (or even by public information campaigns) then their behaviour becomes correspondingly riskier, until the "set point" of the individual risk thermostat is reached.
Since the risk per individual per hour of traffic injury or fatality is very small, only a slight deviation in behaviour is necessary to raise it significantly. If a driver drives a little faster, brakes a little harder, corners a little more aggressively because of being strapped in securely, then this might easily negate (or more than negate) the risk reduction provided by the seatbelt itself.
In support of this theory, Adams offers the troubling increase in pedestrian and cyclist deaths that immediately followed the UK seatbelt law. If drivers drive a little more dangerously, says Adams, it makes sense that more vulnerable road users would bear the brunt of the increased risk.
Were it not for this sincere concern for social justice, Adams might easily be dismissed as yet another libertarian. Many a safety-legislation skeptic's argument begins and ends with individual rights, resistance to "nanny" legislation, etc. Adams asks a tougher question: if safety means *everyone's* safety, does traditional traffic safety engineering really work? Or does it just shuffle the risk around, making it safer to drive a car more dangerously, but imposing more risk on pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, etc?
This discussion occupies only a chapter or two of this thought-provoking book. Other chapters cover such diverse topics as: a taxonomy of personality types and their responses to risk; virtual risks versus immediate risks; and the fundamental contradictions of "cost/benefit analysis". Adams is forthright in criticizing the narrowness of the traditional highway and traffic engineers' vision. "Road safety engineers" consider their work successful if the fatality/injury rate declines on a given stretch of road. But the fatality rate may have fallen because people gave up walking or biking in that area. As long as the incident rate is low, the road is deemed "safe" -- even though residents and locals may know very well that it is dangerous, and make long detours to avoid it.
Adams argues convincingly that this disconnect between people's real experience on the ground, and the abstract perceptions of planners and authorities, is a serious and intensifying problem. The ingenious adaptibility of human beings to dangerous situations means that the engineers may be presented with false success (a dangerous road looks "safe" because of avoidance response) or with intractable riskiness (risk compensation defeating imposed engineering solutions). Many of the traditionalist solutions into which we pour millions of dollars may simply not work, and the way we measure our success may be faulty as well.
_Risk_ is an excellent introduction to the challenging work of John Franklin, Mayer Hillman, Robert Davis, and other members of the "new school" of road safety analaysis. It is a well-researched, well-written, and deeply provoking book. _Risk_ should be *required* reading for all traffic engineers, police, safety analysts, city planners, parents, insurance company executives, and economists. For the reader with an open mind, _Risk_ will raise more questions than it answers; it offers some really interesting new ways to think about and discuss risk.
I also like it when people question dogma, and point out ways in which our previous experience and perspectives influence the way we perceive reality. For example, the possibility that use of seat belts by drivers might shift some injuries from themselves to pedestrians and cyclists had never occurred to me.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in risk.
Thomas B. Newman, MD, MPH
Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and Pediatrics
University of California, San Francisco
It represents a combination of risk compensation and cultural theory. The former posits all human beings have a risk thermostat. The latter illuminates a world of plural rationalities; it seeks to explain unresolved risks in terms of the differences in premises from which the participants argue.
It draws the following conclusions:
1. Everyone is managing risk.
2. Since we are dealing with risks, they are all guessing.
3. Their guesses are influenced by their beliefs.
4. Their behavior is influenced by their guesses.
5. Safety interventions do not influence risk propensities.
6. You will never capture "objective risk."
This book is a gem. It is well-written, counterintuitive, jargon-free and amusing. It will challenge your assumptions on risk management.