The Barn Door Fallacy occurs when a long-standing dangerous or risky phenomenon finally results in a well-publicized fallacy, and then, and only then, do legislatures and regulators rush to eliminate the problem that should have been apparent from the start. Often the new laws and regulations that “close the barn door” are excessively rigid or restictive : that door has to be slammed shut, and then nailed and bolted, even though that once in a lifetime tragedy has already occurred. From Ethics Alarms:
Society…and the public saddle themselves with expensive, inconvenient, often inefficient measures designed to respond to the rare event. One shoe bomber, and millions of passengers have to remove their shoes to go through airport security. One adulterated bottle of Tylenol, and every over-the-counter drug bottle requires a razor blade and the manual dexterity of a piano virtuoso to open. Two sick boys shoot up Columbine, so third graders get suspended for bringing squirt–guns to school.
Sometimes, regulators and legislators grandstand as they slam the door, hoping nobody will remember that they left it wide open and gaping for an unconscionable length of time.
Last year, newspapers carried this grisly story from Schoharie, New York, just west of Albany,:
The 17 friends had all piled into a white stretch limousine for what was supposed to have been a birthday celebration at an upstate New York brewery. But they never reached their destination. The massive vehicle, speeding downhill on Saturday, approached the intersection of two highways that residents had long warned was notoriously dangerous.
And in just a few seconds of terror, their worst fears were realized: The limousine lost control, careening through the intersection and striking an empty car. The crash killed all 18 occupants of the limousine, including the driver, as well as two pedestrians, in an accident that left deep tire tracks in the ground and the small town about 40 miles west of Albany reeling. Four sisters, two brothers and at least three young couples were among the dead.
Many years ago, my wife and I were attending an out-of-town wedding. The host loaded the rehearsal dinner guests into a huge stretch limo, which speeded its way down an expressway to reach the destination. I was scared to death the whole way. There were no seat belts or restraints anywhere; any collision would send bodies flying all over the interior like ping-pong balls in a wind-tunnel. In addition, the limo itself looked unstable and difficult to drive, and accident ready to happen.
When we got home, I was moved to check out of curiosity. Incredibly, there was no requirement that such vehicles have seat belts. There still isn’t.
A year after the New York accident, investigators are still unraveling the causes of the carnage. The limousine company operator, Nauman Hussain, facing prosecution for manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide had brought the vehicle in for brake service in the months before the crash, but the repair shop billed him without doing the work. Meanwhile, Senator Chuck Schumer, quick like a bunny, said he will introduce a bill to require seat belts, stricter requirements for seats and other safety features like side air bags that are not currently required for limos. “We have regulations for cars, we have regulations for trucks, but not for limos,” Schumer said. Then the the National Transportation Safety Board which is continuing to investigate the cause of the accident, issued recommendations that would require “lap/shoulder belts for each passenger seating position on all new vehicles modified to be used as limousines.”
Was everyone waiting for 20 people to die in one of these death traps to start paying attention to safety? Apparently so.
Well, one thing is for sure: THAT stretch limo will never kill those 20 people again!