Tuesday, April 13, 2004

All Benefit, No Cost?

One of my pet peeves about news reporting is its use of partial research findings. To wit, in the most recent issue of Midwest Traveler (AAA magazine) a story says- "Making Missouri's safety belt law stricter would say 89 lives and prevent more than 1,000 serious injuries each year, a federal highway official recently said."

After reading this sort of claim, what right-minded person could be against making the change to the law (safety belt as primary, meaning a motorist could be pulled over for that reason alone)? The only problem is that there is no mention of the policy's cost. For example, if more officers would be needed, that is a cost. Or, if the same number of officers obtains, then to move to a primary enforcement would mean diverting officers from whatever else they may be, or might be, doing. There is also a cost involved with re-allocating a finite resource. Would highway stops for safety belt violations take time away from capturing other offenders? If so, what is that cost?

In order to determine if a policy change has merit, people need to be informed not only of the benefit, but also of the cost. This is not to say that the cost here outweighs the benefits, for given the information I am as ill-equipped to make that decision as anyone else. But this is just a warning that any policy change will have attendant costs, as anytime finite resources are allocated, or re-allocated, some other potentially meritorious use of those resources i being foregone.


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