The Danger of Safety
Last August a guy was hit by a car at a cross walk on A street. The Boston Transportation Department placed a Slow Pedestrian Crossing sign in the middle of the road where he was struck shortly thereafter. Apparently the victim’s reaction time was too slow to dodge the oncoming vehicle. In a literal sense the sign is accurate.
Farther down A street another reminder of life’s incipient dangers recently appeared. Large magnifying mirrors had been installed above several apartment doors. A resident had her purse snatched from her as she approached her apartment this past July. Frightened and outraged she complained to the landlord that she could have avoided the incident had she been able to see the thief encroaching from behind. Days later the landlord’s property management company fixed safety mirrors to the apartment. With the world now available in rear view she has no need to look ahead as she passes down A street.
In Manhattan a parent organization lobbied the city parks commissioner to rid playgrounds of high monkey bars and towering slides replacing them instead with “safety-first playground” equipment that is short, surmountable and boring. In a rush to mitigate exposure to lawsuits from broken bones, scraped knees and any number of other common playground injuries park commissioners have kowtowed to parents to placate fears and protect the city’s assets from the ever present specter of lawsuit. Now children can play in a riskless environment without having to confront their fear of heights on the monkey bars or put Band-Aids on booboos thanks to rubber mulch chips.
What these three safety measures have in common is not that they save anyone from life’s unforeseeable hazards but rather they diminish the sense of responsibility we have to face head on the unexpected risks we will encounter. Many drivers respond to large fluorescent signs shaped like people in the middle road by slowing down as they near. This may decrease the number of pedestrians struck by cars at cross walks no doubt. But at what point does one cross walk become more hazardous than the next, especially if every road in the city where they are placed experiences a high volume of traffic? The mother of two-year-old Cally Murray mourns her child’s loss a year after a driver ran through a cross walk marked with yield signs while texting. Did that slow pedestrian crossing sign make her any safer? Or is it possible it instilled a false sense of security that led her to believe she could cross the road safely protected by a sign.
While a safety mirror may give a mugging target a chance to see the perpetrator, possibly giving them that split second chance to yell for help, flee or react in a way more likely to escape the threat, so would simply being aware of your surroundings. Finally when will we realize the danger of keeping children incubator safe? One of the most important aspects of the playground is how children confront their fears of height on the monkey bars or of their anxieties of losing their balance on the elevated beam. The playground can function as an anti-phobic training center where children can explore and discover limits that they try to overcome. Instead it’s become an acrophobic’s dream come true.
Imagine a generation of children growing up guided by signs around every corner warning them of lurking threats, a generation that prefers to look behind than look ahead. A generation like this may have never experienced the thrill of jumping off swings to fly through the air even if only for a few short seconds. Perhaps they will also fear crossing the road without a helmet or entering through doors unguided by eyes in the back of their heads. At some point our dependance on the guiding devices, padding and myriad safety mechanisms will make us so distrustful of the instincts we developed throughout our evolution, the very instincts that preserve us from life’s real dangers, that we will render human instinct obsolete. In a world engineered to limit the doors humankind may dare open to step into the future we may be able to see with our own eyes the danger of safety.