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24 Mar
  1. Think of the children! (and, of course, the complete lack of facts…)
  2. I’ll be awaiting the Congressional inquiry into the apparent lack of safety of the x-ray machines currently in use in this country. Kevin Kelly succinctly summarizes the entirety of the situation.
  3. A prescient and insightful summary of many of the issues that will (should?) direct the future of intellectual property law, written in light of the recent Google Books debacle lawsuit settlement.

Let’s do some math.

6 Dec

This morning I came across an article about a proposal by the NHTSA which would require backup cameras in all new cars by 2014.

Beyond the obvious discussion about the role of government involvement in private lives, what really stood out to me is the math relating to the proposal discussed in the article.

To summarize the numbers, according to the article:

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which published the proposed rule today, said an average of 292 people die each year from back-over accidents,
  • To equip a new-vehicle fleet of 16.6 million produced in a year would cost from $1.9 billion to $2.7 billion
  • The agency said in the proposal, call[ed] the cost “substantial” and saying it might reduce back-over deaths and injuries by almost half.
  • NHTSA estimated about 18,000 people a year are hurt in back-over accidents, with about 3,000 suffering “incapacitating” injuries.

Now for some math (and we’ll keep it basic)…

  • The NHTSA estimates approximately 18,000 injuries per year. Of these, 3,000 are estimated to be “incapacitating”. Additionally, an average of 292 people die each year from back-over accidents.
  • The NHTSA claims that the new regulations might reduce back-over deaths and injuries by almost half. No guarantees, but let’s be nice and say it works. And to be really nice (and keep out math simple), let’s assume that it reduces deaths and injuries by a full 50%. That would leave us with approximately…
    • 9,000 injuries per year.
    • 1,500 of which would be considered “incapacitating”.
    • And 146 deaths per year.
  • As we’re assuming for a 50% success/reduction rate from the new regulations, savings would be the same.
  • The program would result in an estimated additional cost of $1.9 billion to $2.7 billion per year. For our purposes, let’s assume it will only cost $1.9 billion (things only get worse as this number gets bigger). Remember, $1.9 billion means $1,900,000,000.
  • If we then divide $1,900,000,000 program cost by the 9,000 approximate injuries that the program would prevent, we are left with a cost of $211,111.11 per injury prevented.
  • Remember, these are injuries of ANY type. If we consider only those injuries that would be considered “incapacitating” (1,500 per year), the cost per injury prevented rises to $1,266,666.67.
  • And, of course, if we only consider deaths prevented (an estimated 146, according to the numbers), we are left with an average cost of $13,013,698.63 per death prevented.

Yes, that’s right, $13 million. I’m not at all attempting to place a value on individual human life, nor am I saying that we should not be concerned about those involved in these types of accidents. But let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment. This is an incredibly irresponsible way to spend money. If for no other reason than the return on investment of this money would increase substantially in almost any other application.

If our goal is to save additional lives, decrease injuries (incapacitating or not), or generally increase the safety of the population, then this is, empirically, a horrible method. The money could be much better directed towards literally dozens, if not hundreds, of other areas which would better achieve those goals.

There are 26 countries in the world with a GDP (PPP) below $1.9 billion. According to their published figures, in 2008, the UN’s World Food Programme reached 22.6 million beneficiaries with an estimated $500 million in direct expenditures on school-feeding and food-for-education activities. That’s approximately 1/4 of the budget. I’m not saying this is the right place to put the money, or that there even is a “right” place to put the money. What I AM saying, is that these new regulations put the money in the wrong place.

Hell, even by the EPA’s estimates, the statistical value of a life is only $7.4 million (in 2006 dollars), meaning the cost of this program exceeds the benefits by an absurd margin.

Of course, none of this is truly surprising. In fact, it has become rather standard practice amongst government agencies and elected representatives to support and even champion this, and other equally absurdist bullshit causes in complete defiance of logic. One is only left to wonder at what point, if any, is the line where someone will truly be called out and appropriately chastised for something like this.