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Risk Compensation

Old 11-08-21, 04:57 PM
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njkayaker
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Risk Compensation

"Risk Compensation" is the "go to" argument for many people against helmet use.

It might not be as good an argument as some people suppose.

https://slate.com/technology/2021/11...es-safety.html
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Old 11-09-21, 07:19 AM
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Risk compensation (or risk homeostasis theory) is an important explanation of behavior. For instance, many updated street designs include narrower lanes, which we assume slows drivers (as they adjust speed to compensate the new risk).

There are key limits to the theory, of course. We rarely have perfect information to make decisions, and this includes information on risk. Our risk taking behaviors (and adjustments as predicted by compensation) are based on imperfect assessments of situational risk.

That's my take anyway -- that risk compensation is a useful socio-behavioral construct, but like most such constructs, should not be used to justify individual choices.
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Old 11-09-21, 08:01 AM
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Originally Posted by Bulette View Post
Risk compensation (or risk homeostasis theory) is an important explanation of behavior. For instance, many updated street designs include narrower lanes, which we assume slows drivers (as they adjust speed to compensate the new risk).

There are key limits to the theory, of course. We rarely have perfect information to make decisions, and this includes information on risk. Our risk taking behaviors (and adjustments as predicted by compensation) are based on imperfect assessments of situational risk.

That's my take anyway -- that risk compensation is a useful socio-behavioral construct, but like most such constructs, should not be used to justify individual choices.

I think your take misses the point of how and why the theory is being misused. In this case, it's being used to say that promoting wearing bike helmets will actually increase deaths because helmeted people will ride more dangerously out of a false sense of security. There's no real evidence for this, and the logic, if applied universally, leads to a whole lot of ridiculous conclusions. Basically, if that follows, then moving from the penny farthing to the safety bicycle was a mistake, and perhaps should be reversed. Actually the case for that shift causing more deaths would actually be rather strong for the simple reason that relatively few people would ever attempt to ride a penny farthing, and even fewer would attempt to ride it at anything but a slow speed. I seriously doubt that much of anyone takes up cycling because helmets are available.

This logic, btw, is a complete disaster no matter what mode of transportation it's applied to. Obviously, if you applied it to airplanes, the airliner passenger plane would have been an impossibility as everything that made airplanes move away from being a daredevil's vehicle had the effect of increasing the number of passengers facing a risk of death from the activity.

Your street narrowing example is, I think, demonstrating a different problem which is people's underestimation of the risk of excessive speed on a wide street.
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Old 11-09-21, 11:50 AM
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Moral hazard, the missing link between cycling and the Federal Reserve. Now I can finally write my thesis. Call me Dr. BNBB.
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Old 11-09-21, 11:59 AM
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Originally Posted by blacknbluebikes View Post
Moral hazard, the missing link between cycling and the Federal Reserve. Now I can finally write my thesis. Call me Dr. BNBB.

I am all in favor of the Federal Reserve wearing a giant bike helmet.
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Old 11-09-21, 12:04 PM
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Originally Posted by livedarklions View Post
I think your take misses the point of how and why the theory is being misused. In this case, it's being used to say that promoting wearing bike helmets will actually increase deaths because helmeted people will ride more dangerously out of a false sense of security.
Who is saying this?

If we go back to the opening post, even the one study linked in article doesn't state what the author suggests. (In Slate: "Twenty-eight states repealed their helmet laws, with one prominent advocate claiming that motorcycle helmets actually increased the likelihood of neck injuries.") In reality, the conclusion of the cited article begins: "Over the past 30 years, helmet law advocates have gathered a mountain of evidence to support their claims that helmet laws reduce motorcycle accident fatalities and severe injuries. Thanks to the rounds of helmet law repeals, advocates have been able to conclusively prove the converse as well: helmet law repeals increase fatalities and the severity of injuries" (Jones and Bayer 2007).

It seems we have a bunch of advocates pointing out that helmets work, while twisting the anti-helmet arguments a bit. (Anti-helmet groups concede personal injury rates, but still push for liberty, which is a separate argument.) Most people who cite risk homeostasis do so correctly, as a real (and measurable) behavioral adjustment in response to changes in risk or safety, but rarely enough to offset the actual changes in risk exposure.

Originally Posted by livedarklions View Post
Your street narrowing example is, I think, demonstrating a different problem which is people's underestimation of the risk of excessive speed on a wide street.
Can't it be both? The problem with risk homeostasis theory, as I already stated, is that even if individuals do exhibit behavioral adjustments to risk (and they do), that their basis for risk evaluation is imperfect (as you say, underestimating the risk of high travel speeds). Nonetheless, when confronted with a change to their paradigm (narrowing a wide street), they adjust accordingly (reducing speed); this is about as textbook as you can get for the thought experiment.
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Old 11-09-21, 12:16 PM
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Note that the risk of incurring a severe head injury while riding a bicycle is not necessarily the same or even close to the risk of incurring a severe head injury while riding a motorcycle.
Note that the design capability of bicycle helmets to materially reduce the severity of head injury for bicyclists may not be the same or even close to the design capability of motorcycle helmets to materially reduce the severity of head injury for motorcyclists.
Recommend that discussions about the use of "helmets" and their actual or assumed capability to reduce risk should not treat bicycle helmets and motorcycle helmets as interchangeable terms.

Last edited by I-Like-To-Bike; 11-09-21 at 12:26 PM.
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Old 11-09-21, 12:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Bulette View Post
Who is saying this?

If we go back to the opening post, even the one study linked in article doesn't state what the author suggests. (In Slate: "Twenty-eight states repealed their helmet laws, with one prominent advocate claiming that motorcycle helmets actually increased the likelihood of neck injuries.") In reality, the conclusion of the cited article begins: "Over the past 30 years, helmet law advocates have gathered a mountain of evidence to support their claims that helmet laws reduce motorcycle accident fatalities and severe injuries. Thanks to the rounds of helmet law repeals, advocates have been able to conclusively prove the converse as well: helmet law repeals increase fatalities and the severity of injuries" (Jones and Bayer 2007).

It seems we have a bunch of advocates pointing out that helmets work, while twisting the anti-helmet arguments a bit. (Anti-helmet groups concede personal injury rates, but still push for liberty, which is a separate argument.) Most people who cite risk homeostasis do so correctly, as a real (and measurable) behavioral adjustment in response to changes in risk or safety, but rarely enough to offset the actual changes in risk exposure.
I was talking about bike helmets, not motorcycle helmets. I've certainly seen people making the argument about bike helmets--https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797615620784

As far as risk compensation/homeostasis being "real and measurable", maybe not so much, at least in the case of bike helmets:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/scienc...69847818305941
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Old 11-09-21, 01:07 PM
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Originally Posted by livedarklions View Post
I was talking about bike helmets, not motorcycle helmets. I've certainly seen people making the argument about bike helmets--https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797615620784

As far as risk compensation/homeostasis being "real and measurable", maybe not so much, at least in the case of bike helmets:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/scienc...69847818305941
From the last sentence of the first article 'against bike helmets': "This is not to suggest that the safety equipment will necessarily have its specific utility nullified, but rather that there could be changes in behavior wider than previously envisaged." Again I say that authors who investigate risk homeostasis do so with the understanding that the observed change in behavior doesn't necessarily change the outcome; wearing a helmet still works.

As to the second review article -- I think the authors are conflating the issue a bit. Helmet use is associated with safer cycling habits across multiple studies (unsurprising -- safety conscious folks are safety conscious)! Very few (if any) of the studies they review address changes in individual behavior (the crux of risk homeostasis). Furthermore, their conclusion relies on the same bogeyman that I argue barely exists: "Supporters of risk compensation argue against bicycle helmet wearing as they hypothesise the protective benefit is offset by risky behaviour." I support risk compensation as a socio-behavioral effect, but I wear a helmet and encourage others to do so. I even believe that taking away one's helmet (or getting others to wear) could still provoke a change in behavior (though, again, not necessarily enough to offset the change in risk).

Who are these anti-helmet risk homeostasis crusaders again? Or are they just a ploy to get paper's published?
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Old 11-09-21, 01:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Bulette View Post
Again I say that authors who investigate risk homeostasis do so with the understanding that the observed change in behavior doesn't necessarily change the outcome; wearing a helmet still works.
You may say that again, and many people do; that doesn't necessarily mean that helmets "work" as well as you think or say, at significantly reducing the severity of head injuries that are the outcome of a bicycling accident. Further discussion of "helmet working" (the actual reduction of the severity of injury suffered by bicyclists in accidents) should probably be posted in the helmet sticky thread.
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Old 11-09-21, 02:05 PM
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I wear a helmet 100% of the time when I cycle and ski (and a seatbelt while driving) because "I" want to keep "my" head safe, and don't want a minor crash to cause a gushing wound that would ruin the rest of my ride. I truly don't appreciate any of it being a law. Keep your safety laws away from MY body, when I'm not hurting anyone else. Why does "my" safety go through anyone's thoughts, just worry about yourself, and I'll worry about me. Sorry to trigger all you A&S peeps out there.

If a new law said you had to wear a helmet while driving, because it's safer for you in case of an accident (because it's true), what would you say to that?.....Exactly my point.

With that being said, and to answer the OP, I DO find that I'm a bit more "risky" when I cycle or ski with a helmet on, or mtb with knee/elbow pads on.
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Old 11-09-21, 02:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Bulette View Post
If we go back to the opening post, even the one study linked in article doesn't state what the author suggests. (In Slate: "Twenty-eight states repealed their helmet laws, with one prominent advocate claiming that motorcycle helmets actually increased the likelihood of neck injuries.") In reality, the conclusion of the cited article begins: "Over the past 30 years, helmet law advocates have gathered a mountain of evidence to support their claims that helmet laws reduce motorcycle accident fatalities and severe injuries. Thanks to the rounds of helmet law repeals, advocates have been able to conclusively prove the converse as well: helmet law repeals increase fatalities and the severity of injuries" (Jones and Bayer 2007).
I think the article linked to the wrong reference. What was linked to wasn't what "one prominent advocate claiming" (it was something else entirely).

A few people in the helmet thread repeatedly made claims that bicycle helmets increased injuries. So, it wouldn't surprise me that some motorcyclists believe the same sort of thing.

Note that this thread isn't about the merits of bicycle helmets. I don't care whether that is discussed but the moderators certainly do care. So don't discuss the merits or not of wearing helmets here.

Last edited by njkayaker; 11-09-21 at 02:43 PM.
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Old 11-10-21, 02:59 PM
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The article mentions seat belts.

Automobiles have gotten much safer over the years starting about the time that seat belts and seat belt use became common.



Now with airbags, ABS, and Crumple Zones. Even as speed limits have been creeping up since the OPEC Oil crisis, fatalities have been going down.

It would be hard pressed to find something saying that bike helmets are more dangerous.

Nonetheless, there may well be times when neither a seat belt nor helmet really make any sense such as short low speed travel.
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Old 11-10-21, 03:17 PM
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Originally Posted by CliffordK View Post
The article mentions seat belts.

Automobiles have gotten much safer over the years starting about the time that seat belts and seat belt use became common.



Now with airbags, ABS, and Crumple Zones. Even as speed limits have been creeping up since the OPEC Oil crisis, fatalities have been going down.

It would be hard pressed to find something saying that bike helmets are more dangerous.

Nonetheless, there may well be times when neither a seat belt nor helmet really make any sense such as short low speed travel.

Add to that list kids' car seats. MV deaths include passengers, of course.

I think what's happened here is that a rather far-fetched notion, that people would take bigger risks because they felt safer when belted in (or whatever) became conventional wisdom with very little proof that such an effect actually occurs to any significant extent, enough to partially or totally negate the positive safety effects of the safety features/devices. The article does a good job of showing how weakly supported that idea is, but I'm not sure that the implications of that article for cycling behavior should be limited to helmet use. Again, I think it's obvious that the biggest shift in bicycling usage occurred when the penny farthing was replaced by the safety bicycle, and it's possible to cast that as the adoption of a riskier behavior due to a sense of security OR to treat that as a rational increase in demand as the safety and skill barriers were lowered. That example illustrates that the risk compensation emperor has no clothes as it's really a half empty/half full game of semantics. .
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Old 11-10-21, 05:35 PM
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There's two separate claims that are being conflated that frustrate me.

1) Providing individuals with an increase in safety will encourage them to take on additional risk.

2) That because of point 1, people will increase their risk taking behavior to the complete negation of the initial increase in safety.

These are separate points. It's important to understand why safety devices might encourage unsafe behaviors. Proving this first point, as many studies have, does not suggest any evidence to support point number 2.

The safety bicycle, as suggested, might again support point 1 but not 2. Sure, more people begin to ride and a few may even crash, but we still saved a lot of teeth in the process.
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Old 11-11-21, 09:26 AM
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Originally Posted by Bulette View Post
There's two separate claims that are being conflated that frustrate me.

1) Providing individuals with an increase in safety will encourage them to take on additional risk.

2) That because of point 1, people will increase their risk taking behavior to the complete negation of the initial increase in safety.

These are separate points. It's important to understand why safety devices might encourage unsafe behaviors. Proving this first point, as many studies have, does not suggest any evidence to support point number 2.

The safety bicycle, as suggested, might again support point 1 but not 2. Sure, more people begin to ride and a few may even crash, but we still saved a lot of teeth in the process.

But they aren't separate points at all, and the safety bicycle example crosses both. I'm sure of two things, reliable statistics on penny farthing fatalities would be impossible to obtain and, if they could be obtained, I'm sure they would show that the annual number of deaths attributable to cycling after the introduction of the safety bicycle would be much higher than those when the penny farthing was the dominant mode for the simple fact that very few people were getting on the penny farthing. From the standpoint of death numbers, the introduction of the safety bicycle doesn't just negate the increase in safety, it actually balloons the death rate per capita. It also might balloon it per mile as the type of riding one might do on a penny farthing might be significantly different in nature to the "go anywhere" nature of the safety bicycle.

Sorry, but the concept is flawed at its heart. What's really wrong with it is we don't really know whether the new cyclists are taking on new risk or reducing the risk they're facing from whatever they were doing for transportation before they started cycling.
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Old 11-12-21, 12:19 PM
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I ride a trike and wear a helmet 100% of the time. My head isnt that far off the ground, and when you add the helmet I am doubly safe.
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Old 11-12-21, 02:35 PM
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WTF does the OP article with P+R covid BS have to do with hellmets?? Mods??

Anyway, I DO think hellmets beget risky thinking and more risky riding.
I ride better without a hellmet and drive better without a seatbelt. FACT.
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Old 11-12-21, 02:48 PM
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Originally Posted by GamblerGORD53 View Post
Anyway, I DO think hellmets beget risky thinking and more risky riding.
I ride better without a hellmet and drive better without a seatbelt. FACT.
I have heard and read comments over time that run along the lines of (paraphrased) I would never partake in this kind of bicycle activity or ride on this particular busy road without my helmet.

Given the limited capability of bicycle helmets to significantly reduce the severity of injury suffered in a crash, especially a high speed impact, it probably would be smarter for that person to not do that activity at all or ride that road ever, with or without a helmet.
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Old 11-12-21, 06:29 PM
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Originally Posted by GamblerGORD53 View Post
I ride better without a hellmet and drive better without a seatbelt. FACT.
"Hellmet"? That's an astounding feat of bad spelling. And if that's a fact, there's something wrong with you.
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Old 11-13-21, 01:53 AM
  #21  
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I am trying hard to recall the last time I saw someone cycling without a helmet! Seriously, is it really a thing? I don't think so. There cannot be that many anti-helmet cyclists out there that converting them into helmet adopters would make any significant changes to the (awful) injury and death statistics of American cyclists. If an Escalade creams you, you are done, helmet or no helmet. The places (and there are many) where cyclists have better injury and death statistics don't get there because they use helmets more than us! Helmet adoption doesn't get much better than in the good old USA. But we have Escalades. They don't. If you read this as "things won't get better till we ban Escalades" you would be correct. This thread is worse than useless. How about a thread on changing peoples opinion on Covid vaccine. The potential for positive growth there is incredible.
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Old 11-13-21, 09:16 AM
  #22  
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I used to wear a hat after I got skin cancer, twice, on top of scalp right under helmet vents, to keep the sun off that area. Now I wear a helmet with aluminum foil covering the top of my head; hot, but no more skin cancers in five years since I started doing so. I don't ride any differently with helmet vs hat. Once you're in the saddle, you don't think about it, as there's plenty to occupy you when riding a bike. I manage risk by choosing my routes based on time of day, weather, and season of the year, taking into account traffic density and visibility factors due to sun angle.
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Old 11-13-21, 11:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Leisesturm View Post
This thread is worse than useless. How about a thread on changing peoples opinion on Covid vaccine. The potential for positive growth there is incredible.
Your concern about the shift towards helmets in here is well founded, but there is still opportunity here.

As you requested, let's discuss the role of Risk Compensation as regards the COVID 19 vaccine. Researchers have concluded that such behavioral adjustments in risk taking are observable with the public distribution of the vaccine; peer reviewed by a quality journal:

https://pmj.bmj.com/content/early/20...40234.abstract
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Old 11-14-21, 07:26 AM
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Originally Posted by Bulette View Post
Your concern about the shift towards helmets in here is well founded, but there is still opportunity here.

As you requested, let's discuss the role of Risk Compensation as regards the COVID 19 vaccine. Researchers have concluded that such behavioral adjustments in risk taking are observable with the public distribution of the vaccine; peer reviewed by a quality journal:

https://pmj.bmj.com/content/early/20...40234.abstract
Sorry, but that's a letter, not anything from which conclusions could be drawn. It's not any kind of study, contains no data, and is simply an assertion that it's risk compensation not variant strains that is causing waves. Absolutely nothing in that letter is actually offered to support that assertion. It's also very weak gruel, making it clear that Pelzman WAS arguing the very version of risk compensation theory that you have tried so hard to get us to discount-- the letter says Pelzman was claiming "that highway safety regulations were not reducing highway deaths".

It's an " internal " peer review, btw, and since there's no actual study, all that means is that it was reviewed to determine whether it contains anything in it that's provably false.

Ultimately, though, it has no useful implications. If you're vaccinated, odds are excellent that getting COVID is a relatively insignificant event requiring no hospitalization, so what we're seeing among vaccinated people is an increase in breakthrough infections, but not much increase in the rate of hospitalization or death. That isn't the case for the unvaccinated who get significant increases in all three in a wave. All the authors are doing is attributing the mask-resistant behavior of unvaccinated people to risk compensation from the vaccine. That seems perverse--it'd be like attributing crashes caused by people who don't wear seat belts to risk compensation of seat belts.
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Old 11-14-21, 08:55 AM
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Originally Posted by livedarklions View Post
Pelzman WAS arguing the very version of risk compensation theory that you have tried so hard to get us to discount-- the letter says Pelzman was claiming "that highway safety regulations were not reducing highway deaths".


Ultimately, though, it has no useful implications. If you're vaccinated, odds are excellent that getting COVID is a relatively insignificant event requiring no hospitalization, so what we're seeing among vaccinated people is an increase in breakthrough infections, but not much increase in the rate of hospitalization or death. That isn't the case for the unvaccinated who get significant increases in all three in a wave. All the authors are doing is attributing the mask-resistant behavior of unvaccinated people to risk compensation from the vaccine. That seems perverse--it'd be like attributing crashes caused by people who don't wear seat belts to risk compensation of seat belts.
Your criticism of the Letters format are well founded, but ultimately, in the early stages of data collection, Letters are the communication of choice.

Peltzman's original claim was that safety regulations are often less effective than initially expected (but not null). We have to respect the dialogue here, not the abbreviated lit review in the Letter. I still believe this to be true (as do the authors of the Letter). If I'm discounting anyone, it's the anti-safety nuts who claim a behavioral nullification if any safety intervention.

​​​​​​Your second point twists the authors point about a possible "bystander" effect, which should be treated as different from individualistic 'risk homeostasis'.

I'm not asking anyone to change their world view here, but to recognize the nuance of individual decision making and the specificity required.

My stance, abbreviated: safety interventions generally reduce injury, but may also contribute to risk taking behaviors.

You and I would never fall asleep at the wheel, but Tesla's 'auto pilot' has enabled people to engage in that type of risky behavior. While lane assist may have prevented hundreds of crashes already, it has also directly led to the deaths of at least a few individuals...
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