Flog > An epidemic of crashes

Posted by Mitch Flynn

An epidemic of crashes Western New York has witnessed an epidemic in the last few weeks. Not measles or some other disease, but an unsettling trend of drivers crashing into restaurants, stores, apartment complexes, markets, and houses. The question is, what makes for an epidemic, and why? One of our favorite books is Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, an examination of the forces that "tip" a trend into an epidemic. He lends some insight into the reasons for this behavior.

The book cites a UCSD sociologist, David Phillips, who did a study on motor vehicle fatalities. He found that when stories hit the media about vehicular suicides, the result was an increase in single-car crashes where the victim was the driver. Further, stories about young people involved in similar fatalities resulted in more of the same involving young people; stories about older people resulted in more traffic fatalities involving older people. Phillips concluded that a select few who "set the example" (whether intentionally or not) essentially gave permission, whether perceived consciously or unconsciously, to others who imitated the original act.

Would this epidemic have had the fuel to keep burning if it weren't for the fact that the media identified it as a trend, and in doing so, perhaps gave it a life of its own? An epidemic life? What do you think?