Captain Corruption writes about a subject that's bothered me a lot lately: the removal from the market of products and services for safety reasons.
It's tragic that we have to set safety standards based on the possible behavior of the dumbest members of society. Captain Corruption raises the examples of hot McDonald's coffee and misused toys.
Worse, though, is that companies and organisations are so afraid of plaintiffs' lawyers that they are shutting down operations that involve any risk at all. I spoke to a park ranger in Australia who lamented the closing of a summer camp led by Aborigines to teach children about the outdoors. Liability for horseback riding and other activities became too great, and the camp had to close.
My brother tried to go horseback riding in rural Australia when he was there on vacation, and found that most of the stables were now closed to the public. The one remaining stable would charge more than $100 for a relatively short, slow ride (galloping is too dangerous!), all due to the cost and constraints of liability insurance.
My brother, a private pilot, also tried to rent a plane to go flying. In the US, when you rent a plane from a new airport, you go up for a brief flight first with a licensed instructor, so they can make sure you know what you're doing. In Australia, however, they wanted to make him go through multiple days of flying with an instructor before they would rent him a plane. Not exactly friendly to tourist pilots on one-week vacations. If they had allowed him to fly, renting a plane would have cost double what it does in the US.
Australia is perhaps further down the safety Nazi path than the US. Australia was the first country to mandate bicycle helmets for adults. The Harbour Bridge Climb requires copious safety gear, a tedious safety lecture, and being continuously tied to the railing by safety lines. Public safety messages permeate the culture. But the US is not far behind. The Lake Powell National Recreational Area has banned jumping off rocks into the lake because some moron didn't check the depth before he dove. Yosemite National Park has "no drinking" signs on the natural springs I used to drink from as a child, because there's a tiny risk of contracting easily treated giardia. I don't want my children to grow up in a country where they can't ride horseback at full gallop through the trees, or have the thrill of a 30-foot jump into cool water.
Life has risk. If we try to eliminate all risk from life, it will be no fun at all. Providers of products and services should not be held responsible for accidents or the negligence of the consumer. We need serious tort reform now.