5 Safety Tips That Sound Like Mean Jokes

You know what will save hundreds of lives every year? More scary wolves
5 Safety Tips That Sound Like Mean Jokes

Safety tips are all some variant of be more prudent. “Having sex on the train is dangerous,” they say. “You could fall off. Do it in a bed instead.” And that sounds like reasonable advice. But when we pull out our data tables and check what reduces accidents, we also come up with a bunch of stuff that doesn’t sound like it makes sense. Stuff like...

Release the Wolves

If you’re driving a car and worried about collisions, your biggest worry is other cars. Your next worry is pedestrians. Your third worry? Deer, because cars hit a whole lot of deer, and deer are terrible at getting out of the way. Collisions with deer-sized animals kill hundreds of people in America every year and cost $8 billion annually. That’s a good reminder both that deer are a problem and that we have no idea what stuff costs. 

Deer staring into headlights]

Fabrice Florin

If the number were “$8 million,” we’d have said, “Wow! That sounds like a lot!”

Deer have a natural predator: wolves. Wolf populations plummeted in the 20th century, but they’ve bounced back in some places. In Wisconsin, the return of wolves gave us a chance to see their effect on deer-vehicle collisions (occurrences that are common enough that they have their own abbreviation, DVCs). Namely, it led to a huge drop in DVCs. Wolves cause problems of their own, in that they attack livestock, but when we measure the effects in dollars, the benefit to cars outweighs the cost to livestock, 63 times over. 

The effect here isn’t simply that wolves kill deer, and now there are fewer deer left for us to hit. Instead, wolves create an “atmosphere of fear” far larger than their direct effect on deer. Even the deer who wolves never bite get so scared that they steer clear of roads. Fear is a wonderful tool of control. Especially fear of the big bad wolf. They wrote a whole song about this. 

Let Pedestrians Walk Among the Cars

The obvious way to protect pedestrians from cars is to separate the two as much as possible. We give people sidewalks instead of making them jog alongside cars really fast. We cordon off sectors of town and ban cars from them altogether. But what happens when we do the opposite and yank down barriers, making people and cars intermingle? More death? Monstrous car-human hybrids?

No, declared London’s Exhibition Road last decade. They removed the barriers between two-legged and four-wheeled travelers, letting people mix freely with vehicles. This would actually reduce danger, said architects. Accidents occur not because cars and people are in close proximity but because the two don’t pay attention to each other. Everyone’s on autopilot (figurative autopilot, though literal cruise control also causes collisions). Make everyone care about their surroundings, and everyone will be safer. 

Romazur/Wiki Commons

What’s the road? What’s the sidewalk? Who cares!

So, is this something all roads should try? Maybe not. Actually, let’s make that “certainly not.” In fact, maybe even Exhibition Road shouldn’t have tried it. People on Exhibition find the modern setup baffling. In 2017, one cab plowed through 11 people, in an incident so bad that people thought it was a terrorist attack. It wasn’t. It’s just a very confusing road. 

A Bumper Sticker Everyone Ignores

“How’s My Driving?” reads a bumper sticker on the truck in front of you. Below this message is a toll-free number you can call. You don’t call it, of course, because you have better things to do. You don’t even enjoy calling businesses when you need to, why would you ever do it if you don’t?

How’s My Driving bumper sticker

Mark Hillary

Plus, you’re unsure it’s real number. 

But when a company slaps that sticker on a shipping vehicle, its chance of getting into a crash drops by 22 percent. The source of that stat is an insurance company’s 42-month study of tens of thousands of vehicles, and no one knows more about the cost-benefit analysis of car safety procedure than insurance companies. The difference, presumably, arises from the driver’s paranoia in being monitored — an “atmosphere of fear,” if you will — as well as other drivers taking more care after seeing the sticker. 

Businesses have to balance the safety gain against the cost of maintaining that safety hotline. That cost, it turns out, is low. We weren’t joking before: Barely anyone ever dials that number. And believe it or not, the few people who do call typically say, “Their driving is great! Good job.”

Make Everyone Talk About Their Feelings

In 1997, Shell started work on a new offshore oil rig, which they called Ursa. It would go on to be the tallest structure in the world. From the base to the top, it’s a good 60 percent taller than the tallest skyscraper. It’s more than 60 percent taller, if you don’t count skyscraper antennas, which barely count as a legit part of the structure. 

Shell's Ursa platform

Offshore Magazine

It’s since been beat — not by a new building but by an even taller rig.

While they were getting workers ready for the rig, Shell tried something a little different from the usual training. They sent all the men to a consultant so they could talk about their feelings. One guy would talk about alcoholic parents, and another would start crying when talking about his sick kid. These sessions lasted all day. Once Ursa opened, Shell reported an 84 percent drop in accidents. 

Now, one might well ask if the sessions caused this or if it was some other factor, which Shell is neglecting to report for some reason. You’d think that if Shell invested in some more tangible changes, they’d proudly share them. Unless, they addressed some secret flaw in their operations that was so shameful that they dare not let anyone know what it was. 

Play ‘Children’ by Robert Miles

In the 1990s, every Saturday night, Italian roads became extra dangerous. People left clubs, excited and high, and they promptly smashed into each other on the road. The weekly ritual gained a name: strage del sabato sera, or the “Saturday night slaughter.”

How could Italy solve the problem? Could people stop taking drugs and driving every Saturday night? No — that would be impossible to implement, and even if that did save their lives, those lives would no longer be worth saving. Instead, there arrived a new solution. It was the song “Children” by Robert Miles. 

It was a techno record, like so many others, but it was a little different. It was slower and softer. Those of you familiar with it may be unfamiliar with the extended version we’ve embedded above, which starts with the sounds of weather. Italian clubs took to playing this version at the end of each night. Clubbers who’d been amped up now calmed down, and they returned to their cars marginally less likely to smash into each other on the way home. 

“Children” created a new subgenre known as dream trance. It may sound strange, that anyone should deliberately compose club music to be boring. But then, Miles wasn’t a typical composer. He was born Roberto Concina, and for his DJ name, rather than picking something crazy, he chose “Robert Miles.” Some people devote their careers to being as outrageous as possible, but others choose quieter routes. 

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see.

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