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During the height of the debate on federal safety standards for automobiles, the New York Times ran editorials dealing with the problem. The Times took the position that it was outrageous for auto manufacturers to contend that the cost of safety devices be considered in deciding which ones should be required. Where human lives are at stake, thundered The Times rather fatuously, no cost is too great. Of course, those who argued that "costs" were relevant were really saying that virtually any cost was too great and so the Times was probably on the side of the angels, but this did not make the position taken in the editorials any less absurd.
Accidents and accident prevention are, to a substantial extent, questions of costs. On the one hand, we have the question of how much accidents cost us; on the other, the equally significant question of how much it costs us, either in money spent or in pleasurable activities foregone, to avoid these accidents. We need not have grade crossing accidents—we could abolish grade crossings. But that would cost money. We need not have fatal car accidents—we could banish all cars, or limit them to 20 m.p.h. But that would also, presumably, cost us more than we are willing to pay in pleasures and profits foregone. Short of such drastic measures, we could ban teen-age drivers, or aged drivers, or require certain safety devices. The choice is always basically the same—a choice between the cost of accidents and the cost of limiting ouselves or some of us to less desirable (because more expensive or less pleasant) but safer activities.
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