Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Drink driving safer than walking home: study -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

ELEANOR HALL: Their pop approach to economics has earned them a cult following around the world.
The Chicago University economics professor Steven Levitt and The New York Times writer Stephen
Dubner called their first book Freakonomics and you've heard them talk about that on this program.

Now they've released a sequel where they explore a new range of unorthodox issues such as whether
it is more dangerous to drink and drive, or to walk home drunk.

Brendan Trembath has this report.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: You won't find Freakanomics in most dictionaries but Stephen Dubner is still a
big believer.

STEPHEN DUBNER: It is really a way of looking at the world a little bit differently than perhaps we
have been trained and encouraged and it is using the tools of economics to look at subjects that we
might not normally look at.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: He and his co-writer Steven Levitt have put their heads together again to explore
more of the world's problems. Drink driving is one of them.

STEPHEN DUBNER: We've been trained to know that drunk driving is very dangerous and it is. It still
continues in many parts of the world because it is not enforced very vigorously.

What we found however that many people, let's say that they have had too much to drink and they
decide to leave their car, let's say you have gone to a friend's party. This friend may live a mile
from you and you decide to walk home instead. Well, when we looked at the numbers involving
fatalities of drunken pedestrians, we find that it is actually about eight times more dangerous to
walk drunk than to drive drunk.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Now of course they're not endorsing drink driving. They're just trying to
challenge conventional thinking.

STEPHEN DUBNER: So if you really want to stop all drunk driving, well you could set up a road block
every mile and if you catch someone who has been driving drunk, you could execute them on the spot.
Obviously that would not be very popular within society so really what you have to do is look at
the kind of incentives that produce the behaviour that is acceptable to all or acceptable to most
or acceptable to the people in power without imposing too onerous a cost.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The two writers found some inspiration in Australia. They were intrigued by a
study on the spread of germs in hospitals.

STEPHEN DUBNER: It is an astonishing failure. This is not to indict doctors. They are not a bad
class of people obviously. They are not a lazy and malevolent class of people obviously but we did
look at doctor's hand washing rates in different places and we found that there was one Australian
study that showed that doctors self-reported their hand washing rate at about 73 per cent which is,
in hospital, which is not terrible but pretty good.

The problem however is that those same doctors during the same period that they reported a hand
hygiene rate of 73 per cent were being observed by nurse spies who had been deputised to keep an
eye on them and those nurse spies found that the doctors who said they washed in three out of four
cases, their actual hand hygiene rate was 9 per cent.

So the problem here is one that we think, which most people think that our own behaviour is far
better than it actually is and especially any time you are making a decision based on some survey
material where the survey is self-reported, you have to be very wary of that.

So hand washing as it turns out, especially in hospitals, is something that we've known for 160
years, is vital, vital, vital for stopping bacterial infection and other things and yet human
behaviour can be very, very hard to change.

We relate this in Super Freakonomics actually to global warming because human behaviour can be so
devilishly hard to change that sometimes you need to find solutions that don't rely on human
behaviour if you want to solve a problem.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt use statistics to explore a range of problems in
their new book Super Freakanomics but they don't try to tackle the biggest of problems, the global
financial crisis. It's not really their thing.

STEPHEN DUBNER: There are problem a thousand other books that have come out already or are coming
out that address it so we try to fill the gaps where nobody else is working and fortunately there
are a lot of people working in that space.

ELEANOR HALL: Still, they delivery some scary stuff. That is Stephen Dubner, the co-writer of Super
Freakonomics speaking there to Brendan Trembath.