The road safety analogy which might just get us safely through a modest Christmas…

Interesting discussion on Nolan this morning, not so much for what I said, but the quote I used from one time member of the Slugger commenting parish, and one of my oldest friends in NI politics, Ian Parsley and his excellent post on Facebook as an enabling way to consider the government’s restrictions for Christmas…

…there is a road safety analogy which I have used before (with apologies to regular readers!)

On one four-lane road a speed limit of 30mph was posted and it was noted the average speed of traffic was 45mph. Upon re-assessment, the posted limit was *raised* to 40mph – and the average speed on the road *fell* to 40mph.

In other words, the higher limit delivered a lower and safer speed – once drivers faced what they felt was a sensible limit, they adhered to it; when the limit was ridiculous, they just did as they pleased.

This is all counter intuitive of course. And since it is from a public policy viewpoint we should remember that such measures are composed of an aggregate of individual decisions, where as another old friend, Quintin Oliver responds “it’s all about risk (personal, medical, political)”.

This is a sound reminder that the policy is prescriptive. Where personal risks are higher in individual cases, then a far more cautious approach is going to be needed. But making the restrictions reasonable we might have a more reasonable expectations of getting through.

The point here is that good public policy isn’t always about doing the most obvious thing, but trying to bring together enough understanding from various fields in order to hit what Rory Sutherland calls the sweet spot and get us to a decent outcome.

Photo by dmvl is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA