“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Negative externalities

I've turned to trying to determine some of the major effects that would result from "everyone" adopting my driving methods. I've discussed the potential economic savings in previous posts, but there are many other possible ramifications. It seems to be extremely difficult to really determine what the results would be.

At first blush, I'd think that everyone driving more slowly would lead to greater traffic congestion if the same number of people made the same trips. I've searched the web for information relating to this hypothesis using google's beta site for searching the scholarly literature. While I found lots of articles about traffic congestion and driving speed, none seemed to confirm my intuition. Nor did they seem to refute it.

There would likely be less accidents, following distances could close. On the other hand, the same number of people spending longer on the same length of pavement argues that densities would be higher and congestion more likely. I'm calling it a wash until someone points me to information that would make a strong argument one way or the other.

Economic losses due to added time on the road, however, seem to be unambiguously negative. An earlier post assessed the effects of lower speeds on my personal time in vehicle, and I've mentioned that I'm intrigued by the notion that one should be able to come up with an estimate of almost anything. So, if everyone adopted my driving techniques, how much time would be lost each year?

Using estimates of number of personal vehicles and annual mileage, combined with an estimate that 30% of these miles would be driven more slowly than otherwise with drivers adopting my techniques, my estimate is that about 468,000,000,000 miles would be driven more slowly. I estimate that this would result in 1.8 X 10^9 (1.8 billion) extra hours on the road. Does this make sense?

Well, I'm one of 200,000,000 drivers and I calculated in an earlier post that I'll lose about 47 hours per year. If each of the 200 million drivers lost that much, the total would be 9.4 X 10^9 hours. But I estimate that I probably drive something like 30% more than average so adjust this down to 7.2 X 10^9 hours. Figure somewhere between these numbers is right, I'll use 4.5 X 10^9 or 4 and one half billion hours.

I'll say the average hour is worth $30.00, in that case the lost time is worth $135 billion. Considering I calculated we'd save $36 billion in oil imports, it would seem not to be worth it. Are there any mitigating factors?

Not many. First would be finding ways to avoid productivity loss when on the road. Talk radio? Books on tape? Cell phones? These all may help but they certainly won't eliminate the lost productivity. Most workplaces have required hours, so the lost time would come from drivers' personal time. Thus, it wouldn't be strictly an economic loss.

One thing's for sure. There's no free lunch.

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