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Peltzman Effect

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

The Peltzman Effect is a theory which states that people are more likely to engage in risky behavior when security measures have been mandated. The Peltzman Effect is named for Sam Peltzman’s postulation about mandating the use of seatbelts in automobiles.

Peltzman theorized that the introduction of safety devices, like seatbelts or airbags, might not have the intended effect of reducing accidents as intended. He proposed that because people safer driving with a seatbelt, they would correspondingly drive with less attentiveness. Peltzman did not limit his theory to automotive safety or safety regulation in general; instead, he proposed that all government regulation created a disincentive towards its ultimate goal.

Upon review of the data associated with the introduction of the first generation of automotive safety devices, it was found that the Peltzman Effect was quite real. While the ratio of fatalities went down in accidents, the rate of accidents was found to rise enough to offset the decreased fatality rate.

This was last updated in December 2018

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