Monday, July 18, 2011

Treating Bad Driving as a Disease

Dr. Jin Huiqing believes bad driving is a disease, and potentially one that is hereditary, according to this story in the Telegraph. From the story:
He has studied the records of thousands of Chinese bus, van and taxi drivers, put dozens through neurological tests and examined hundreds of blood samples. Since last year, he has been trying to find gene markers for bad drivers.

"Cars can be fitted with the highest levels of equipment: safety belts, air bags, and so on. Roads can be more regulated. But people, how can you help them become better?" Dr Jin said in an interview in the central city of Hefei, where he is based. "People still need to be controlled, they must face restrictions."

He tries to target the root cause of crashes by identifying the physical or psychological traits of poor drivers, such as risk-taking or poor response time under stress, and keeping them off the streets or ensuring they get adequate training.

The cost of traffic casualties is so high that accident-prone people should at least be barred from driving commercially, he said.

I'm not sure this explanation qualifies bad driving as a disease, but it was only the headline of the story that claimed such anyway. The idea that some drivers may need additional training makes sense, and considering how wacky some Chinese drivers education and testing are (such as learning to drive a sedan on 2x4s set out as rails), there are potentially large gains from education if it reduces crashes:
Traffic accidents are now the leading cause of death for Chinese aged 15 to 44, the World Health Organisation says.

The LA Times covered the story, too, though Chris Woolston doesn't mention that Dr. Jin Huiqing has (according to the Telegraph) "a lucrative business selling his road safety programme to Chinese municipalities." In any event it should come as no surprise that there are good drivers and lousy drivers, and the lousy drivers should get additional training or get off the road. Of course, this is quite hard to do as just about everyone thinks they are above average drivers.
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