The Mechanism is Not the Motivation

“Buckle your seat belt even if you’re going for a short drive. Most accidents happen within 5 miles of the home.”

I remember hearing that often as a teenager in those early driving years. And it popped into my head: “That’s a dumb statistic. Of course most accidents happen near your home; that’s where most people do the most driving.”

I still wore my seat belt, but I always thought that was a dumb reason to do it. And I’ve always really disliked weak arguments for things I favored.

(Example: I’m in favor of marijuana legalization, but I once saw an ad supporting it that said “72% of Americans favor marijuana legalization, so it must be a good idea,” and every hackle I have stood up. Like… no. 72% of Americans favor a lot of dumb shit. Legalization is a good idea, but that’s not why.)

So it isn’t that being close to home is particularly dangerous (how could it be, since everywhere is “close to home” for someone), it’s just that wherever you do the most driving, you’ll have the most accidents. Duh.

But then came the second (and much more important) epiphany: yeah, so wear your seat belt.

If you ignore your seat belt when close to home because you dismiss the weakness of the argument, you’ve missed the point. It doesn’t matter why accidents are more common close to home, because the mechanism applies both ways. If you don’t wear your seat belt when driving close to home, then you won’t be wearing your seat belt most of the time.

Sometimes, the mechanism behind the “why” can seem a little suspect, but that doesn’t mean it’s an inaccurate model of the situation. And sometimes good ideas have bad arguments. Be careful what you dismiss.

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