Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

How We Help Make Life Such a Risky Business

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

How We Help Make Life Such a Risky Business

Article excerpt


CAREFUL!: THE SURPRISING SCIENCE BEHIND EVERYDAY CALAMITIES AND HOW YOU CAN AVOID THEM by Steve Casner (Macmillan, PS18.99) WILLIAM LEITH BACK in the old days, Steve Casner tells us, we were less careful. As a kid, he remembers sticking his head out of the car window, putting plastic dry-cleaning wrappers over his head and playing with chemistry sets. In those days people didn't always wear seat belts. There were fewer guard rails and more dodgy kerosene heaters. "We licked stamps," he says.

Casner is now in his fifties and a psychologist at Nasa in California. His job is to prevent accidents. This is a book about how not to have accidents. We must be more careful. One of the main problems is that we already know this. "The same psychological mis-steps happen over and over again," says Casner.

Perhaps that's why there's an exclamation mark in the book's title.

Still, we've been getting better. In America a century ago, one in 20 people died of accidents. By 1992 the figure was one in 40. Since then, it appears to have got slightly worse. "Today we are back to the safety record we had 30 years ago." Why? Possibly because the pace of life -- of inventions, of distractions, of cars -- has been increasing.

Don't text and drive. Leave your phone alone. That's one of Casner's big messages. Even at stop lights. You may think you can switch your focus from the road to the phone when the car is at a standstill. But you can't. There is "a sort of hangover effect". How long before you're giving your full attention to the road again? "Up to 27 seconds."

So don't try to do two things at once. This is "delusional multitasking". It's hard enough doing one thing at once because your attention slips after a while -- "vigilance decrement".

Casner loves these handy phrases. …

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