What is Risk Homeostasis?
You may have heard the word homeostasis at some point and you definitely have heard the word risk before. Put the two together and what exactly do they mean? Well, let’s start with risk. Risk is the possibility of suffering harm or loss. Homeostasis is the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium. You can think of it as returning to normal, or a state of balance. So, if nothing you’ve read so far is new, here is your reward for hanging in there.
Football is Risky
Risk homeostasis stems from our ever-constant pursuit to increase our personal safety. A “popular” example of this can be found in the game of football. Football is a hard game with a lot of physical contact. Large, fast and strong individuals running into each other constantly for a period of 60 minutes. What allows players to receive and dish out so much physicality is the protective gear they wear. Their helmets and pads protect them when they hit and get hit. The irony in safety equipment such as this is that it breeds greater risk taking. Players run faster and hit harder than they normally would because they know they have an extra layer of protection. Their personal safety increases by wearing protective gear and thus their risk goes up as they are more inclined to incur greater risk on the playing field. Increase in safety led to increase in risk and that is risk homeostasis.
Back-Up Cameras, Good or Bad
Another prime example that is starting to be common in every new car sold in the near future involves back-up cameras. These cameras provide an extra measure of safety by allowing drivers to see directly behind his or her car. People quite often back over things in their driveway or hit shopping carts in parking lots. Back-up cameras, if used properly can almost eliminate such accidents and prevent even worse outcomes. However, what tends to happen when you rely on this camera is that you no longer take the time to turn your head and look around your vehicle. The camera provides an added element of safety but it doesn’t compensate for all blind spots and potential fast moving objects that may dart out behind your vehicle. You personally may not do it, but it’s not a stretch to imagine that drivers of all sorts would fall prey to this judgement error. Once again, a useful and effective measure of safety is added, but risk also becomes greater as drivers forget to perform basic safety procedures they were once taught.
How this Affects Driver Safety
I could go on with several more examples, but at this point you get the picture. Risk homeostasis has been around for as long as there were people attempting to make their lives safer. This is in no way meant to dissuade continued efforts to invent and devise more ways to make people safer, especially on the road where so many accidents occur. On the contrary, we should continue as a society to move towards practices and technology that increase safety and reduce risk. The point of introducing risk homeostasis is simply to bring awareness to it. Football may not affect most of us. It sure makes for a good time on Sundays, but overall has little effect on our daily lives. When dealing with daily dangerous tasks such as driving it is of utmost importance for us to recognize and not become solely dependent on added safety measures, but rather use them in accordance with safety related procedures we already exercise.
Rubber Meets the Road
Understanding where risk homeostasis may be found will go a long way to prevent it from becoming an issue. We can no longer claim ignorance or blame technology for causing us to be overly dependent on it. It is possible for us to increase our safety without necessarily increasing our risk, and one of the first steps is reading this short paper and utilizing its message.