Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Car and Blogger

Your friendly neighborhood economist almost had a serious accident Sunday night due to... well... lack of standardization in cars.... My car, for some weird reason, does not have the emergency brake as a stick in between the front seats; it is tucked under the steering wheel, to the left, just next to the door. But it turns out that in my sister's car, which I am using in Istanbul right now, that's where the latch for the hood is. So I had accidentally opened the hood instead of releasing the handbrake- I did release the brake once I noticed the brake light was on, but drove on for a few miles with the hood open.

This incident has made me wonder what economists, who like to poke their noses into everything, have to say about the economics of standardization. A simple google search (I opted for regular google rather than scholar) brought out quite a few articles and books. Out of the public stuff, I decided on a 2000 paper, which I have printed for in-flight reading on my way to Marmaris tomorrow. I hope to post my takes from the paper soon.

Another car-related item of interest is the recent increase in the speed limit in divided highways. This's from Hurriyet Daily News Press Scan for June 28:
People from all corners of Turkey reacted harshly to new legislation that increased the speed limit on highways from 90 kilometers per hour to 110 kilometers per hour. Many Turkish associations on traffic demanded that President Abdullah Gul veto the legislation.
It makes sense that a higher speed limit will cause more fatal crashes, and there are studies that reach that conclusion for the U.S. But the public outcry in Turkey is not based on any evidence at all, which is, when you think about it, is very typical of my beloved country.

I am not saying the protesters are wrong; in fact, it is more likely that they are right. I just don't like the attitude of claiming without supporting. And let me propose the following scenario: Suppose that the speed limit is enforced in divided highways, but not in multi-lane intercity highways in Turkey (this is more or less the case). As a result, inter-city drivers would want to make up for the time lost on divided highways by going extra-fast on multi-lanes. Then, a higher speed limit in divided lanes could, at least theoretically, induce them to go slower on multi-lanes, and 90  rather than 120 miles/hour there could make a big difference. As a result, you'd expect fatal crashes to increase in divided highways but decrease in multi-lanes. I know this is not the most probable scenario, but empirical economics has been known to surprise from time to time.

In fact, I should convince the Daily News to do a story once the data for crashes for July become available; let's see if there is a significant change from last month or same month last year. So I will be coming back to this topic soon.

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