Risk Analysis

Validating Benefit and Cost Estimates: The Case of Airbag Regulation

Journal Article

Preregulation estimates of benefits and costs are rarely validated after regulations are implemented. This article performs such a validation for the mandatory automobile airbag requirement. We found that the original 1984 model used to estimate benefits became invalid when 1997 values were input into that 1984 model. However, using a published 1997 cost‐effectiveness model, we demonstrate, by replacing the model inputs with the values from 1984, that the 1997 cost‐effectiveness ratios, based on real‐world crash data and tear‐down cost data, are less attractive than what would have been originally anticipated. The three most important errors in the 1984 input values are identified: the overestimation of airbag effectiveness, the overestimation of baseline fatality/injury rates, and the underestimation of manual safety belt use. This case study, which suggests that airbags are a reasonable investment in safety, shows that the regulatory analysis tools do not always produce findings that are biased against health, safety, and environmental regulation. Future validation studies of health, safety, and environmental regulation should focus on validation of benefit and risk estimates, areas where we found significant error, as well as on cost estimates.

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