Risk homeostasis theory and traffic accident data

Risk Anal. 1986 Mar;6(1):81-94. doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.1986.tb00196.x.


The risk homeostasis theory posits, in essence, that a control mechanism analogous to the thermal homeostatic system in warm-blooded animals tends to keep risk per unit time constant, and, as a consequence, the number of traffic accidents per unit time of driving also tends to remain constant, essentially independent of changes in the traffic safety system. It is the purpose of the present research to examine the validity of this claim using a wide variety of traffic accident data. All the data examined are found to be incompatible with the risk homeostasis theory. The only specific field accident data offered in the literature to support the risk homeostasis theory are found to, in fact, refute the theory. The accident data provide evidence that a rich variety of user responses occur. While it is possible for users to collectively respond in such a way that safety benefits are completely cancelled, such a response is not particularly common; it is certainly not universally occurring, as suggested by the risk homeostasis theory. It is concluded that the risk homeostasis theory should be rejected because there is no convincing evidence supporting it and much evidence refuting it.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Mortality
  • Risk
  • Safety
  • United States