Avoiding risk? It's now 'practically a religion'

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Yes, but the price of that ounce can far exceed the value of the cure.

We have become a society obsessed with never letting any harm befall anyone anytime for any reason no matter the cost. People are trying to throw a huge virtual prophylactic over everyone, shielding them from every risk.

There are warning labels on everything.

There reportedly was a drain cleaner label that warned, "If you do not understand, or cannot read, all directions, cautions and warnings, do not use this product." There was the fishing lure that warned, "Harmful if swallowed," as well as the stroller that instructed one to "Remove child before folding."

Philip K. Howard writes in his book "The Collapse of the Common Good" that, "Being safe has come a long way since Ralph Nader pointed out the absence of safety guidelines for cars and other consumer products. Avoiding risk is now practically a religion."

A recent Review-Journal article explored the complaints of Clark County high school students who said Internet filtering is so strict it stifles their ability to use their computers to their fullest potential. Rather than allow the studious majority to use the available technology properly, the school system attempts to prevent any liability it might incur were a single student to misbehave. (There's no irony in the fact that one of the students tilting at this bureaucratic mind-set is named Cervantes.)

Instead of monitoring the computer use and disciplining the miscreants, all are restricted.

The lame-duck session of Congress passed a sweeping food safety bill in an attempt to reduce the number of illnesses and deaths due to tainted food. The bill will cost $1.4 billion over the next four years and hire 2,000 inspectors. All the stories dutifully reported the recently revised-down Centers for Disease Control estimates that 48 million Americans a year are sicked by food-borne illness and 3,000 a year die.

What none reported was that the majority of these illnesses are due to improper handling or cooking of the food by the consumer, not the producer.

Since 2002 the Transportation Security Administration, which has been tasked with making sure no terrorists again attack airliners in this country, has spent $57.2 billion, according to a recent Washington Post article. That article revealed that despite banning all sharp objects (due to Sept. 11), requiring all passengers to remove their shoes (due to the would-be shoe bomber coming from England), outlawing liquids to be carried aboard (due to the 2006 plot from England), requiring full body scans and pat downs (due to the Christmas Day 2009 knickerbomber from Europe), thus far the TSA has failed to catch a single terrorist.

Just a couple of weeks ago we learned the Department of Transportation plans to require all vehicles manufactured by 2014 to have rear-view cameras at a cost of $2.7 billion. It is doing so under the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Act of 2007, so named because the eponymous 2-year-old was killed in 2002 when his father, a Long Island, N.Y., doctor, backed over him in his SUV while the child was in the blind zone behind the vehicle.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an average of 292 people are killed annually in crashes involving vehicles backing up. It is unclear how many of those cameras might've prevented.

Then there are the two deer overpasses on U.S. Highway 93 north of Wells. The first overpass cost $1.8 million. The second, currently under construction, will cost $3.2 million, according to an Associated Press article.

The overpasses are intended to protect motorists from colliding with mule deer during the winter migration, which in the past has happened 30 or 40 times a year.

Author Howard speculates, "Some evolutionary weakness must account for the human tendency to build new systems that try to fix problems once and for all. We long for something more reliable than people who, we know, are fallible."

At some point, paying full fare to avoid every conceivable risk known to man will bankrupt us.

Life is risky.

Thomas Mitchell is senior opinion editor of the Review-Journal. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at tmitchell@ reviewjournal.com. Read his blog at lvrj.com/blogs/mitchell.