Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Explosions and Deregulation

Libby at the Newshoggers points to a fuel truck explosion in Massachussetts as proof that deregulation of the trucking industry causes safety harms.

A couple of things to point out, though:
1. The Soviets had plenty of "safety regulations." Oddly, these did not prevent Chernobyl or anything resembling a hazard-free environment.
2. Pointing to anecdotal evidence of one instance does nothing to prove or disprove whether deregulation is good as a whole. The difference between government regulation and deregulation proponents is that deregulation proponents realize that government regulation has a very high cost and does relatively little to prevent people from doing what they were going to do in the first place. Focusing on whether one accident was preventable does little in terms of weighing the costs and benefits of deregulation as a whole (including the estimated $300-$500 million in lower annual costs estimated by the World Bank).
3. Also worth pointing out is that this driver apparently didn't comply with existing, basic regulations like vehicle inspections. So what evidence is there to think he would have complied with stricter regulations if they existed?
4. Finally, the news article makes much of the fact that the trucking company has been involved in four accidents over the last two years. But, believe it or not, this actually suggests a pretty good safety record for a company with 83 trucks and 105 drivers. That amounts to an accident rate of about 2% of its fleet per year- pretty good when you consider the amount of time truck drivers spend on the road. Put another way, this is the equivalent of an individual driver getting into only one accident every 50 years, during which the driver is on the road 6-8 hours a day- pretty good, especially remembering that this includes accidents where the trucker is not at fault. To the extent this company is typical of safety records in a less regulated environment, it actually suggests that deregulation has not had a particularly harmful effect on safety.