Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Whither the incentives?

Helmets are mandatory for boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) drivers in Kampala, and the police seem to be enforcing the law (or at least drivers think they are). Yesterday a driver refused to take me to town since he didn't have a helmet. This driver, who picked me up outside of the city today, drove us a few minutes out of the way to get his helmet, and then drove at break neck speed into town.

The law is meant to increase safety, but there is no law for passengers. Other than a white friend that lives in Kampala 50% of the year who owns her own helmet, I have never seen a passenger wear one.

Since drivers never used helmets before, let us assume they once had an expectation of being hurt in an accident, which then influenced their caution when driving. With a helmet, the chances of being hurt go down. So, all other things being equal, wouldn't we expect the drivers to decrease their caution by some amount? Given few (i.e. no) passengers wear helmets, doesn't this mean its now more dangerous to be a passenger?

I can't really complain too much though. I don't wear a helmet and am not even contemplating getting one. After using motorcycle taxis in Cambodia, I find Ugandan drivers to be quite tame. When I first came to Uganda in 2007 I would lie to the drivers and tell them I was in a hurry just to increase the thrill. Like all addicitons, I needed the stakes to get progressively higher.

In my recent better judgement, I no longer purposefully try to get the drivers to be more reckless, though at the cost of the rides no longer being the thrill they once were. I am sure the University of California, who recently spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on my brain, would be happy to hear I am at least protecting it a little better these days.

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