Dr. Alex Horenstein: Risk Arising from Safety Measures

April 20, 2020

The public has largely abided by health officials’ recommendations for safety measures to help protect against the coronavirus. Yet, by feeling safer, individuals may inadvertently lower their guard and cause unwanted consequences. Dr. Alex Horenstein, assistant professor of economics at Miami Herbert, points out important risks that arise from newly implemented safety practices.

Safety Measures During the Pandemic
Safety measures have been taken seriously by concerned and engaged residents. People are adopting certain behaviors into their everyday lives, such as frequently washing hands, disinfecting with alcohol and using sanitizers, and wearing masks outside the home. While these actions form a crucial part in fighting the health threat, safety measures generate risks that should be recognized.

Risk 1: Changing Behavior
People change their behavior when they feel safer. By implementing new safety measures, individuals relax attention to other areas of security. For example, economy scholar Sam Peltzman showed a few decades ago that, when seatbelts became a requirement, accidents and pedestrian fatalities increased. By feeling safer, drivers unintentionally drove more recklessly.

Risk 2: New Market Entrants
Safety regulations may cause new entrants that previously did not have the skills to now feel capable enough and engage in the marketplace. When driving became easier thanks to advancing technology such as automatic shift, lower ability drivers who were not actively on the road felt enabled to join the arena. Horenstein, along with co-author Konrad Grabiszewski, finds in a recent study that these new entrants lower the average skills of the market and decrease average safety.

Correlation with Coronavirus
Some individuals mistake safety precautions for sufficient shields against contagion. In one such case, a knowingly infected person used a mask and travelled from New York’s JFK airport to Palm Beach, potentially causing harm to others. By feeling safer, individuals tend to take more risks and endanger themselves or those around them. People should be aware that safety measures only signify precautions and do not mean inoculation from risk.

For additional COVID-19 Thought Leadership and business resources from Miami Herbert Business School faculty, click here.

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