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“Safety is dangerous”

Inspired by the posting below about soundbites, Patrick Crozier has lashed up a list of attempted transport policy soundbites. Not all of them have quite the zip and zing that you are looking for in a soundbite. For example, I don’t see this catching on:

Transport is not an unalloyed good.


Or this:

The chaos on Britain’s railways is to a large extent the fault of the EU.

“To a large extent”? That sounds like John Major as enacted by a TV puppet.

But, as I said in a comment there, never mind. As soundbites they are mostly unfinished, but they’re a definite start. Others can maybe get polishing.

And, as I have also already commented at Transport Blog, before realising that the thought might also be worth airing here, one of Patrick’s suggestions may actually be ready to spread around. Here it is:

Safety is dangerous.

This little phrase may have been arrived at many times before (comments about that are of course very welcome), but I’ve not heard this exact combination of words before. I think it might be a winner.

First, it is short. Three familiar, easy-to-remember, easy-to-say words. Very important.

Second, it asserts an important truth, which is that an overzealous pursuit of safety, by (for instance) shutting down a pretty safe transport system in a vain and very expensive attempt to make it ever more safe can actually cost lives. The costs incurred (but hidden because spread around) can make everyone’s lives a tiny bit more unsafe, and the alternative transport they use in the meantime might be a lot less safe. Shutting down railway systems after crashes, or grounding huge airplane fleets ditto, can kill, on the roads. And of course “safety is dangerous” has numerous applications besides and beyond transport.

But third, just as important, “safety is dangerous” has just the right degree of counter-intuitive outrageousness, such as will arouse interest and stir up debate. Because this soundbite is, literally speaking, untrue, it could cause opponents of the truth it flags up to get drawn into a stupid argument about its truth, and its unfairness. “It’s not true!” “Ah but you’re missing the point, what it says is true.” Etc. etc., blah blah. The sense of outraged logic of the victims of the soundbite could be all part of the fun, and will cause TV interlocutors to keep on throwing this soundbite in their faces, simply because they hate it so. Like all good soundbites, it could supply a cushion for the lazy TV compere to fall back on.

Well, maybe. Most attempted soundbites are like newborn fish, doomed to die immediately. But maybe this one will prove to be a fish with legs, if you’ll pardon the expression.

It could be that “safety is dangerous” needs more work done on it. Maybe it should read: “Safety is unsafe.” Or maybe the even shorter: “Safety isn’t.” Personally I think that “Safety isn’t” is too brutal towards the banal truth that safety, properly understood, is indeed safety. Also, the claim is too absolute. It isn’t being claimed that “safety” is always unsafe. Just sometimes. You might have to change “safety is unsafe” to “safety can be unsafe” and then the word count starts to rise. (“Safety is to a definite extent unsafe.”) “Safety is dangerous” is the best, I reckon.

12 comments to “Safety is dangerous”

  • I’m going to use this: “Safety is dangerous.”

    It nicely encapsulates a situation where a person needlessly endangers himself in the name of safety. Another example might be an old person dying of food-poisoning from “organic” food in an attempt to avoid pesticides.

  • Of someone who drives a ‘safer’ four-ton SUV who dies in a roll-over accident.

  • Brian,

    Only one problem: they’re not soundbites. I know the title uses the word and it is used elsewhere so there are grounds for confusion but really it is just a list of ideas that ought to be turned into soundbites at some point.

    For what it is worth I think there are some ideas there that could never be turned into soundbites. All that stuff about positive externalities comes to mind.

    In that context I agree with you – 1 out of 38 is really very good indeed.

  • Joe

    why not go crisp and clean with: Safety kills 😉

    Or make it more understandable by “-isming” it…

    …Safety-ism is bloody dangerous!

    .. and a well placed expletive can also add a memorable something to get your teeth into 🙂

  • Theodopoulos Pherecydes

    “Safety is dangerous.”

    Might have been written by a counterterrorism expert talking about civilian casualties on the other side.

  • Will

    Safety Hurts?

    When rigging stage lights in a theatre, a hook attached to the light housing is hoisted over a horizontal bar, and nothing short of an explosion or an extremely high magnitude earthquake will dislodge the light from its stably suspended state. Neverthless, a simple hand-screwed bolt is used to clamp the thing firmly in place.

    However, it has now become obligatory to loop a wire “safety-cable” around the light and the bar. This is somewhat fiddly to do, and is almost completely pointless. Fiddling is not what you want to be doing when you’re standing atop a ladder, perhaps 15 feet abover the ground.

    I know a theatre lighting engineer who has never seen a light fall of its bar in thirty years, yet since the introduction of “safety-cables”, he’s seen people fall off ladders attaching or detaching them three times. Two of those times, it was he who fell.

    Safety is dangerous.

  • The above reminds me of this crazy lighting guy in high school who, upon discovering that the scaffolding would not get below the place he needed to put the light, grabbed a twenty-pound fresnel in one hand and used the other (and his legs) to climb across the grid of bars from which the lights were hung. (There was an interesting moment when he discovered that one bar was both flexible and unsecured.)

    Bear in mind– this was a *private* school; if he’d been at one of the (American-style) public schools he wouldn’t have been allowed on the scaffolding, let alone to imitate a psycho gibbon…

  • How about:

    “Trains are safe, Corvettes are not. Which would you rather own?”

    Yes, I know, it’s a bit off-target. But it SINGS!

  • Thon Brocket

    “Safety kills”.


  • Karl Gallagher

    Pull out a book of engineering disaster case studies and you’ll find half of them were caused by additional systems added on to improve safety.

    “Excessive safety kills”?
    “Too much safety kills”?

  • How about “Safety can be dangerous.”

    And an earlier one, “The chaos on Britain’s railways is mostly the fault of the EU.” Not much of a slogan, but still better.

  • Trelnex Twarg-Ack

    I think the problem with this sort of slogan is that it fits clearly into the Orwellian “War is Peace” model.

    Many people will make that connection; you’re bringing a whole lot of negative connotations into play, which might cause its effect to be the opposite of what’s intended.