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Risk: Why Smart People Have Dumb Accidents [Book Review]


Be careful what you take away from this book (previously titled “Careful”). It may forever change your outlook in life and the inherent risk of living it.

Guys, in particular, need to take note. Apparently, men rate the risk of drinking, taking drugs, and smoking about 10 to 15 percent lower than do women. Is it at all surprising that men are also significantly more likely to die as a result of drinking, taking drugs, and smoking?

Another group of people who are ready and willing to take on risk is (no prize for guessing) teens. Of great concerns to parents is the frightening association between youth and risk taking. According to researchers, “wanting to do crazy stuff seems to be a natural part of the developing young mind”. If you've got teenagers in the family, you'll have to look out for them.

And if you think there's nothing inherently dangerous about being at home, here are some statistics that will give you pause.

Injuries sustained at home that required a trip to an emergency room (US alone, 2014):
Using power tools – 400,000
Using kitchen knives – 333,527
Falling off a ladder – 140,000
Using washing machines – 40,000
Using chain saws – 29,687
Using hammers -28,340
Using pots and pans – 24,822
Using food processors – 21,000
Using hatchets and axes – 14,500
Using blenders – 10,000
Using screwdrivers – 7,241
Using saws – 3,590

According to Casner, taking risks is often tied to the likely rewards of doing so. But a problem arises when people attempt to maintain balance in the risk-benefit equation. Here, the author highlights a controversial theory called risk homeostasis, which goes like this: if you make something a little safer, people will respond by being about that much more risky, and safety will go unchanged.

The author also asks, rather sarcastically, of pedestrians who overestimate how well drivers can see them at night: “What is it about us that makes us think that everyone will notice us? Is it our sparkling personalities? Our bright futures?”

Is it pure co-incidence that the author cited people like “David Strayer”, who conducted studies on the effects of switching our attention between driving and interacting with electronic devices? And then there's Ian Walker, a researcher who studies cycling safety. Not to mention an Andy Pilgrim, who gives safety talks to teens and their parents.

Pilgrim, incidentally, advises parents who are prone to risky driving to model the right behaviour for their kids as they will copy all your dangerous moves. Even if you have already done dangerous things in front of your kids, it's never too late: “Tell them that you have changed your ways and why you have changed your ways.”

Minor gripe: some of the charts and graphs in this book are too small to discern what they're about.

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Last Updated on 21 June 2024

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