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    Getting from A to B

    This article in the English Asahi is promisingly headlined “Ministry gets tough on transport safety.” Unfortunately, the truth appears to a little less cheering:

    Currently, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport issues suspensions only if transport companies accumulate a certain number of penalty points for employee traffic violations.

    Not only does it take a large number of violations to draw a suspension, the ministry’s shortage of inspectors means that many are not counted.

    In most cases, suspensions are imposed only after serious violations, such as fatal traffic accidents, the sources said.

    I added emphasis to that one clause above because it conveys one of the problems that lead to lax safety enforcement in other sectors (the nuclear power industry springs to mind) also: lots and lots of bureaucrats, very few inspectors out in the field. The Asahi reporter doesn’t do much with it, instead shifting to a discussion of how more market competition after deregulation of transportation industries has encouraged companies to overwork and underprepare their vehicle operators.

    Did deregulation contribute to the increase in the number of accidents? That’s certainly plausible. It’s hard to judge from the statistics provided by the Asahi, though. Restrictions on entrants to the trucking industry were relaxed in 1990; to bus and taxi in 2002. The increase in the numbers of accidents caused by different types of vehicles was measured over the period from 1995 to 2005. What correlates with what is difficult to divine.

    But in any case, one of the main points of having a government at all is to protect citizens–from external enemies and, sadly, from compatriots who want to harm or exploit them. If existing safety regulations are being enforced slackly or arbitrarily, there are systemic problems that instituting tighter regulations probably won’t address. On the other hand, the government may be more willing now to take a firm line in enforcing safety standards precisely because the increase in the number of competitors means it’s not just dealing with established giants that have long-standing connections to a lot of federal agencies. Cozy relationships tend to facilitate cover-ups.

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