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Reviews and comments on Target Risk and the theory of risk homeostasis


Date: 2014-11-27

"A fundamental premise of government and industry policies is that it is possible to reduce the rate and severity of accidents by improving the design of machines and the environments in which they are used, and increasing the skill of their human operators. Wilde's theory of Risk Homeostasis constitutes a frontal attack on this premise and, accordingly, on the safety measures based on it. Wilde is to be congratulated for carefully and explicitly setting out a fascinating theory of risk-taking behaviour. In addition to its theoretical interest, his proposal has important practical implications, making it worthy of detailed, critical examination...Wilde's theory is a novel application to health and safety of the homeostatic concept."
Paul Slovic and Baruch Fischhoff , Decision Research, Eugene, Oregon

"Antilock braking systems, airbags, seatbelt laws, traffic lights, speed regulations, are all part of mammoth efforts to reduce traffic casualties. But do these measures, and their counterparts in industry and public health, have the effects intended? In his theory of risk homeostasis, Professor Gerald Wilde postulates that they don't, because they fail to influence people's willingness to take risk. Now, for the first time, Wilde collects his famous theory, along with its supporting argument and data, into one fascinating document. Target Risk is a powerhouse of insights into human risk-taking behaviour. It's a book that everyone interested in safety and health promotion should have on their shelf."
Dan Keegan, Publisher, PDE Publications, Toronto

"The basic idea of risk homeostasis has been laid out brilliantly by the Canadian psychologist Gerald Wilde in his book "Target Risk."
Malcolm Gladwell , The New Yorker

"The best-known model-but also the most controversial-is Wilde's "homeostasis of risk", in which risk perception and risk utility are integrated in a single cybernetic conceptualization."
Jean-Pascal Assailly, National Transportation Research Institute, France

"the ideas suggested by Wilde have important implications for anyone who must manage risks."
Gordon F. Pitz, Professor of Psychology, Southern Illinois University

"The risk homeostatic approach, the devil's idea to some in the safety community. . . . Human behaviour is the dominant force in the risk approach. Technological changes will be completely offset by user response unless the target level of risk is changed."
Glenn C. Blomquist, Professor of Economics and Public Administration, University of Kentucky

"The question of risk homeostasis and its existence is like the question of whether or not God exists..."
Peter Joubert, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, University of Melbourne

"The model may be taken as a simple, plausible, and appealing device and, viewed from that perspective, Wilde's theory has much to recommend it."
Gerald. A. Cole and Stephen B. Withey, University of Michigan

"[Wilde] is probably the most prolific researcher and writer in the area of danger compensation or risk-offsetting behavior"
E. Scott Geller, Professor of Psychology, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

"Wilde's diligent, eclectic search for empirical data to support his theory of risk homeostasis is exemplary. His efforts have served as a focal point of debate and have led others into theory-based discussion relevant to driver behaviour"
Alan C. Donaldson, Senior Research Scientist, Traffic Injury Research Foundation of Canada

"There are no epicycles and there is no phlogiston. Similarly, there is no risk homeostasis."
Leonard Evans, General Motors, Detroit

"As Evans has noted [risk homeostasis] commands about as much credence as the flat earth hypothesis."
Brian O'Neill and Alan Williams, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, USA

".... and increasingly, the evidence suggests that Wilde is right."
Ann Rhodes, Harrowsmith Magazine

"Gerald Wilde, the man with the original idea....The Wilde hypothesis suggests an explanation: protecting car occupants from the consequences of bad driving encourages bad driving....there is one form of safety legislation which Risk Homeostasis Theory suggests will be futile: legislation to protect people from themselves....the principal, and perhaps the only, determinant of aggregate accident rates is what Wilde calls the 'target level of risk.' "
John G.U. Adams, Department of Geography, University College London

"Fundamental questions are asked about our public approaches to coping with risk."
Lloyd Orr, Professor of Economics, Indiana University

"The effect of Mr. Wilde's theory would be a conclusion that nothing works when it comes to traffic safety, which is why critics have labeled it "Wilde's Law of the conservation of Misery." But it does express some degree of truth since people aren't just robots, they do adapt their behavior to changed circumstances."
John Sewell, The Globe and Mail, Toront

"Any attempt to answer whether or not we are implementing the right safety measures must address the controversial issue of "risk homeostasis."
Ivan D. Brown, Medical Research Council, Cambridge, England

"Penny-pinching bosses take note: a well-implemented incentive program can pay for itself several times over due to lower absenteeism, higher productivity, and reduced insurance and workers' compensation premiums. Says Wilde: "For marginal companies, the payback may be large enough to enable them to stay in business."
Brian Banks, Canadian Business

"In general, our roads have become safer over the years. Knowing this, most drivers drive farther and faster because they perceive low risk. As a result, purely technological improvements fail to reduce the number of deaths."
Terence Dickinson, the Whig-Standard, Kingston, Ontario

"Possibly the most provocative statements were put forward by the Canadian psychologist Gerald Wilde....the accident rate per kilometer driven has fallen, but not so the accident rate per hour of participation in traffic....every society has the accident rate it is willing to accept."
Frankfurter Zeitung

"Wilde has a whole book full of real-life examples of how we all set a risk target and adjust our behavior accordingly. Adding anti-lock brakes to a car, for example doesn't reduce accidents. Aware of their greater braking ability, drivers follow more closely and drive faster on slick streets....depressingly, Wilde concludes that we get the safety we deserve. If Canadians truly wanted a lower accident rate, they would simply change how they drive....if you doubt, read the evidence yourself in Gerald Wilde's Target Risk."
Peter Calamai, The Ottawa Citizen

"Risk compensation is not a consequence of an indomitable desire for risk, but simply follows from an economic principle."
Willem Wagenaar, NRC-Handelsblad, Rotterdam

"Wilde has made a name for himself in risk analysis. A close study of traffic accidents and human behavior led him to develop his controversial theory of "risk homeostasis" safety measures don't create a safer world."
Peter Shawn Taylor , Canadian Business

"The homeostatic theory of risk and its implications for traffic safety is in part revolutionizing and destroying many of the conceptions that until now have been held by traffic authorities in many countries."
Las Provincias, Valencia, Spain

"Expert calls road blitz useless. Says accidents will migrate to nearby roads."
James Daw, The Toronto Star

"Wilde illustrates his mental baggage with provocative brain teasers. For instance, the solution of the problem of a dangerous road is just to close it. But the accidents will surely migrate elsewhere; so, that's not an effective solution. Why, then, should you prohibit driving under the influence?"
Ron Hendriks, Verkeerskunde, The Hague

"Based on the notion that rules don't force us to drive more safely, this radical theory suggests rewarding good drivers is more effective than punishing bad."
Andy Turnbull , Truckers' News

"The notion of risk homeostasis crops up constantly-in letters to the editor, in scientific articles, and political debates."
Barry Pless, Editor-in-chief, Injury Prevention

"A risky adventure....Road safety specialist crosses through Sao Paulo and finds a jungle."
Claudio Paiva, Folha de Tarde, Sao Paulo, Brazil

"G. Wilde ....lays out the implications of risk homeostasis theory for traffic safety education."
Ulrich Schulz, Professor of Psychology, University of Bielefeld, Germany

"[Wilde's] theory about "Target risk" or "the risk that people accept" has caused a polemic and made an invaluable contribution to the study of human behaviour in situations of risk."
Ulisses Iarochinski, Traffic safety coordinator, Volvo Brazil

"Recent studies by a Canadian psychologist strongly suggest that even the best get-tough campaigns to reduce alcohol-related driving accidents fail because they ignore basic principles of human behavior....To say that alcohol is a cause of the accident rate is to say there was no war before the invention of gun powder, ....that the demon is in the bottle, not in the man....Programs that offer rewards for behaving safely, rather than penalties for taking foolish risks, stand the best chance of reducing teen-age drunk driving accidents over the long term."
Joann Rodgers, Times Union, Albany, New York

"Wilde asserts that every society has a built-in "target level of risk" that constitutes the level of danger people are willing to accept in exchange for the benefits they believe they accrue, such as getting to work on time or deriving pleasure from driving. This target level functions as a kind of danger thermostat: Devices that make drivers safer, he argues, provoke a collective increase in risky behaviour."
Kevin Krajick, Psychology Today

"Automobiles: the risk we accept. Some experts claim our safety programs are falling short of aims."
Leslie Papp. The Expositor, Brantford, Ontario

"A common snake in the grass is the hypothesis of constant risk that was developed by the expatriate Dutch psychologist G.J. Wilde"
Piet Vroon, De Volkskrant, Amsterdam

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