Russian roulette at 30 miles per hour

13th September, 2006 with responses from kyb, MattLG, John, Roo and Ben Walsh

Russian roulette is viewed, almost mythically, by many people as the most dangerous game one can ever play. Really? Well, for a start, it should beat minor traffic accidents.

The current campaign in the UK tells us that in an incident at 30 mph 80% of pedestrians survive. That may sound pretty good until one calculates that the survival rate for Russian roulette is greater than 83% (5/6). I say greater because not all players die, even if shot in the head.

As with all dangerous activities, there is also a risk of serious injury. Being hit at 20 mph is no picnic, but pull the trigger with an empty chamber and you're not going to feel a thing.

In fact, on the whole, making every possible effort not to hit people, in any way, is probably the best policy. It is interesting, though, that the scenario seen as a reasonable compromise really isn't. At all.

A response from kyb

15th September, 2006

I'm not sure what the compromise you're refering to is. I think everyone at every time makes every possible effort (that they consider reasonable - they could just not drive) not to hit someone. The difficulty is that no matter how hard you try, it is still possible that you will hit someone, therefore taking steps to reduce the fatality rate in areas where hitting someone despite all your best precautions is more likely is a good idea.

The premise as I understand it is that hitting someone at 30 mph is very dangerous. I'm not sure what the conclusion is though. We should have 20 mph as a speed limit? We should not drive? We should not have speed limits?

A response from MattLG

16th September, 2006

>> I think everyone at every time makes every possible effort not to hit someone.

I think you are very naive. Most people don't even make every possible effort ot protect themselves when they are driving, let alone other people.

A response from John

19th September, 2006

I agree that accidents will always happen. However, for the purposes of the post, what interests me are the rules put in place to mitigate the damage of such an event. To me, that being hit at 30 mph is more dangerous than playing Russian roulette with a six-shooter, is surely worthy of note.

With regards to the assertion that all road users "makes every possible effort not to hit someone". If that were true then all the following would hold also:

But they don't. Alas, not even close.

A response from Roo

23rd September, 2006

I do like the comparison between a 30mph crash and russian roulette, but (like kyb) I'd like to hear what you mean by the compromise in the closing sentences.

It is interesting, though, that the scenario seen as a reasonable compromise really isn’t. At all.

A 30mph limit is the unnaceptable compromise? If so, you'd prefer 20? They are used in some built up areas, especially around schools, and probably bring an accident to below russian roulette level risks. Would 10 be even better? 5? 0?

A response from John

24th September, 2006

To paraphrase the post:

  1. Being hit at 30 mph is more dangerous than Russian roulette.
  2. Russian roulette is seen as an unreasonably dangerous.

If both are true then it follows that being hit 30 mph is unreasonably dangerous. I would argue that something that is unreasonably dangerous could not be described as a reasonable compromise.

With regards to the final paragraph of your comment: while the initial post said nothing of solutions to this problem, it is true that if all other factors were kept the same, then lowering the speed limit would indeed be the best option.

However, it's worth noting that there are two probabilities at play:

  1. The odds of an incident taking place.
  2. The odds of fatality given such an incident.

The above post only addresses a small part of the second probability. For an opinion on the first, I refer to my first comment on this post.

A response from Roo

25th September, 2006

I'd probably agree that it's pretty obvious that a lower speed limit would make life safer. Only probably though. On an argumentative day, I'd suggest that lower speed limits might have all sorts of extra implications we can't even begin to comprehend until we witness the tradegy they bring.

Imagine a world in which speed limits are so low that every accident is non-fatal. In fact, let's imagine a 2mph speed limit in which accidents are barely even noticed. Cars are still capable of higher speeds, but drivers are very patient in built up areas and the time the limit is mostly obeyed without question. Pedestians mill about, moving between pavement and road like so many semi-tame pigeons. Now, what happens when someone gets really impatient and/or drunk, or a police car needs to get to the other side of town in a hurry (uh oh, straight past the entrance to a school)? The pedestrians, dulled to the dangers of street life, don't even know what's happening until it's too late. What's that strange high pitched sound? Surely that can't be a... splat.

Perhaps education is the answer. I suggest a new campaign is called for. One in which, as a driver crashes into a pedestrian (for some undiscussed reason), the action freezes and he is depicted pulling out a revolver and playing Russian roulette with the innocent victim. (For added realism, the driver would have to spin the barrel - while holding the gun vertically - after each shot of course.)

A response from Ben Walsh

27th September, 2006

It all comes down to risk and impact (no pun intended) ...

The benefit of the populus being able to travel at a given speed is balanced against the risk of the populus being involved in an accident - and the impact of whatever injury they sustain.

In the case of a school area, the "lost" 10 mph gives a reduction in the accidents which probably brings it equal to the average accidents in a non-school area - with the various proportions of minor injury / major injury / fatality also being roughly equal.

Conversely, the cost to society overall, of zero fatalities, zero major injuries or zero fatalities grows, I assume, exponentially.

Role on the transporter devices (a la Star Trek) - though, of course, they will also have risks.