If something has only a 0.1% chance of killing you, then you’ll still probably die from it if you do it a thousand times

Lexus-LFA-and-LF-LC-driving-side-by-side-1024x640Awhile back I was on a date with a guy, and we were talking about driving (for some reason) and I mentioned that I don’t like to spend too much time driving right next to another car on the highway (if I can possibly help it). And he was all like, “That doesn’t make sense. Lanes are so wide. What are the odds that he will veer to the left at the same time you veer to the right? Realistically, there’s plenty of space within lanes for sideways motion.”

Well yesterday I was proven right! I was on I-95, driving towards DC, when the car in front of me suddenly swerved to the right to dodge an object in the road (honestly, it looked like a child’s tricycle or something). I only had a second to react. I had to dodge to the right–going a few feet into the other lane–to avoid hitting the object.

You know what would’ve made it much more difficult to avoid the tricycle? If I had been driving next to another car.

So take that, guy!

Risky behavior isn’t risky because it is guaranteed to result in disaster. it is risky because it increases the chance of disaster. Oftentimes, risky behavior reduces your resiliency: your ability to react to unforeseen circumstances. If you drive in a careless way, then it will probably be okay…but that means you’re putting a lot of trust in both the other driver on the road and in the universe in general. You’re trusting that you will never encounter a child’s tricycle in the middle of the highway. And, yeah, that’s unlikely. But, you know, if you drive for long enough, then shit like that is gonna happen.

7 thoughts on “If something has only a 0.1% chance of killing you, then you’ll still probably die from it if you do it a thousand times

  1. William

    It’s kind of shocking that a person could spend any appreciable amount of time driving and not know this. But yes, your analysis is correct. Next question: whether drafting behind big rigs is a good way to save on gas.

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Yeah, I don’t know how he wasn’t just made physically nervous by having another object so close to him on the road. I can’t remember, though, maybe he was from SoCal. Down there, you spend so much time driving at high speeds within a few feet of other cars that it stops seeming weird.

  2. xan

    It is incredible how safe humans are in modern America.

    It’s good to be at least dimly aware of the actuarial stats: we have on the order of a 1 in 1000 chance of dying in the next year. If we want to keep it that way, every individual action we do has to be yet less risky by orders of magnitude. We can’t walk around doing things that on their own contribute anywhere close to a 1/1000 chance of dying. If we do ten things in a year that have a 1 in 10,000 chance of killing us, that *alone* gives us about a 1 in 1000 chance of dying.

    Conversely, whenever I see a raffle or contest or lottery with 10,000+ participants, I think: There will be one winner, and 10 lucky runner-ups will win the consolation prize of…death.

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Yeah, very few things have a 1/1000 chance of killing us. I just used that number because it looks good. Yep, I once looked up the chance of a 27 year old American male dying in the next year, and it was super low! Much less than one in a thousand. Made me happy.

Comments are closed