Friday, June 23, 2017

Why Be Responsible?

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times.  In fact I probably have said it one hundred times, because out of about 630 little essays here, this is the 107th that refers to the subject of responsibility; specifically, when you don’t exercise responsibility, you give up some of your freedom because someone is always eager to step in and take over the job for you.

In many cases the helper, the one seeing to it that your careless actions don’t hurt you or someone else, is the government.  In those case the irresponsible actions of a few result either in an additional cost to everyone, an additional restriction on everyone’s actions or both.  In the latest case it is probably just a minor cost, but the example is revealing.

It seems a few people buckle their children into the child safety seat in the back seat of the car on a hot day, drive to their destination and walk away, forgetting the child is locked in a potentially dangerous car.  According to Reuters this has resulted in 800 accidental deaths since 1990.  Now that’s a long period of time, but small steps may save the lives of about 40 children a year.  (It has happened 9 times already this year and the summer temperatures are just beginning in many parts of the country.)

In response, three lawmakers in Washington have proposed a new regulation requiring that automakers install “devices to remind drivers to check their back seats for passengers before getting out.”  Safety experts agree and General Motors will already include this feature in a few high-end 2018 models.  This should not be much of a challenge or a cost.  It requires a bell or a light on the dashboard as a check-the-back-seat reminder when the car is turned off.  It should be easy as there are so many lights and bells in cars today warning of open doors, unfastened seatbelts, front airbags, etc.

One concern would be whether such a system would be easy to grow accustomed to and ignore, although some might find it helpful to remind them of a briefcase riding in the back seat.  Also, unless all the cars were recalled, it would take about 20 years to be universally installed and in that time we could lose hundreds more children.

Of course, true to the new American mythology of an excuse for everything, we are assured that it’s not really our fault.  We are too stressed out.  From Consumers Union:  “Dr. David Diamond, the director of the Neuroscience Collaborative Program and Center for Preclinical and Clinical Research on PTSD at the University of South Florida, noted that competing brain functions can cause a parent to lose awareness that their child is in the car.”  He blames the negligent acts on “flaws in the brain.”

The cost is unknown.  Congress rarely thinks about these small costs when imposing more regulations.  But if this simple fix costs less than five dollars per car, then based on annual sales of about 10 million vehicles with back seats (16 million minus some pickups and sports cars), the total cost would be under $50 million, less than or about $1.25 million for each child saved.  This would be reasonable, based on the assumption that no one ever knowingly leaves a kid in the carseat to run a quick errand. 

But that’s $50 million per year not available to spend on other things – there’s always a trade off.  What would we rather spend that money on if a few people didn’t have this "brain flaw" that interfered with their behavior as responsible parents?

The final concern is that when this is successful in saving a few lives, Washington will continue to feel duty bound to take on more of our irresponsible behavior with costs and restrictions, like this suggestion by a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine.  She believes sugary drinks should be regulated similarly to alcohol.  “We regulate alcohol… We do not sell alcohol to children. We tax it and you can’t drink while you are working.”

Some fail in the dimension of responsibility and we all lose.  Little by little we pay more and we give up our freedom.

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