Diario de Noticias, Portugal



Ferreira Fernandes

Diario de Noticias, Portugal

3rd August 2008

Here’s a book that I would never normally write about in this column. It’s called How to Live Dangerously: Why We Should All Stop Worrying and Start Living by Warwick Cairns. It’s a provocative and salutary book. But, at the outset, I was not yet prepared to stop worrying – because Cairns’s argument is that to make the world a safer place, we need to live more dangerously.

Warwick Cairns is British, and he supports his arguments with statistics from his country. But as he’s not an Iraqi, I think we can more or less accept those statistics as the same as ours. For example, the fear of flying: we’d need to take a flight every single day for the next 26,000 years to die in a plane crash. But in that time, we would have already died 20 times over in car accidents on the way to the airport.

Riding a bike without a helmet, you’d imagine, must be more dangerous than driving a car? Not so – although in traffic accidents, cyclists are more likely to die than motorists, traffic accidents account for only 1.4% of deaths. But as one third of all deaths are caused by heart disease, and cycling 40 kilometres a week cuts the risk of cardiovascular ‘accidents’, the risks of taking to the road on two wheels are more than compensated for.

But without a helmet? Exactly. Because wearing a helmet, according to Cairns, makes us take more risks because we feel less vulnerable; and going without one encourages motorists to moderate their speed as they pass. The use of safety equipment makes us go beyond our safe limits. Cairns cites the case of the Dutch region of Friesland, where the authorities removed all the road signs of and street markings - without these there to shepherd them, the motorists, who had become used to driving like sheep, had to become more responsible for their own actions and, consequently, had fewer accidents.

But why would I worry to bring you this good news? It’s because Cairns goes on to address the biggest of our fears: if we’re worried about our own safety, then with our children we are terrified mother-hens. But Cairns’s argument is this: if you wanted your children to be abducted, you would have to wait for more than 200,000 years. In Great Britain one child in 12 million is abducted. In the home, a child is burned to death every ten days. So states Warwick Cairns in his book, but it’s such a sensitive matter I wouldn’t have dared to repeat it.

But yesterday, I heard the news of a man who, angry with his children, opened the door of his car and left his two 11-year-old twin sons by the side of a road in the Algarve. They were found at six o’clock the next morning by the police, safer than they would have been if they’d stayed in the car with their father. Exactly as Warwick Cairns had said.

You can, if you so wish, read the article in the original Portuguese here