Learning Lab Denmark - INCUBEus

C. Land Transport

The land transport technology covers as diverse technologies as trains, motorcycles and motor vehicles. Paul Slovic's psychometric study from 1978 shows us that people generally view transportation as a great benefit to society, but at the same time they consider the risk high.

The interesting finding is not the perceived benefit, but rather the participants' grading of the risk. There is a significant difference in the way people perceive the risk related to the different technologies in the transportation industry.

For instance, motor vehicles are the only items in the psychometric study, which the participants have rated as having both a high benefit and a high risk. This shows us that people sometimes tolerate a high-risk technology because it also represents a great benefit.

The risk tolerance towards motor vehicles is not the case when it comes to motorcycles. By the participants in the study, motorcycles are regarded as risky, although not as risky as motor vehicles. On the other hand, they do not represent a benefit to society, and thus the perceived risk in this technology is greater than the perceived benefit.

In contrast, railroads are rated as being very high in benefit and very low in risk and is thus seen as a very safe technology by the participants in the study.

The high values of both benefit and risk in relation to transportation illustrate that the participants in the study are able to distinguish and evaluate the two. The values show us that when it comes to transportation, the participants are willing to accept a great risk for a technology, which they perceive as being of great use to society.

In a psychometric study from 1987, Slovic et al. investigates the perception of risk from automobile safety defects. An important finding from a cost-benefit perspective is the significance of 'signal potential': if the consumer perceives a risk to which the manufacturer does not respond properly, the reaction is very strong. Costs related to signal potential are usually greater than the costs related to accidents. This was the lesson learned from the Ford Pinto accident (card #C1). Hopefully, it has taught manufacturers that it actually pays to increase safety!

Further reading:
Slovic, P. (2000). The Perception of Risk, pp. 80-103, Earthscan Publications.

Slovic, P. (2000). The Perception of Risk, pp. 73-79, Earthscan Publications.

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Nine Technologies

A. Air Transport
B. Buildings
C. Land Transport
D. Marine Transport
E. Bridges and Dams
F. Oil Tankers
G. Chemical Industry
H. Medical Industry
I. Nuclear Industry

Nine Theories

Quantitative Risk Assessment
Decision Analysis
Cost-benefit Analysis
Normal Accident Theory
High Reliability Organisations
Risk communication
Arena Theory
Cultural Theory

Five Categories

Hazard (0-1000)
Range (km2)
Fear Factor (0-10)
Media Effect (0-100)