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Is TSA Pat-Down Hysteria Pushing Travelers to More-Dangerous Roads? Is TSA Pat-Down Hysteria Pushing Travelers to More-Dangerous Roads?

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HOMELAND SECURITY

Is TSA Pat-Down Hysteria Pushing Travelers to More-Dangerous Roads?

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A car was abandoned on the side of a snow-covered European road on January 7, 2010, after an accident due to the snow falls.

Could it be the TSA pat downs?

Travel this Thanksgiving weekend is expected to rise from past levels, officials said, but more Americans are turning to trains, buses, and automobiles to get away.

 

That may not be a good thing, an economist says. Although travelers may avoid having a Transportation Security Administration employee touch their junk, they are exposing themselves to the perils of the highway.

Researchers at Cornell University noted that air travel fell by 6 percent between the last quarter of 2001 and the first quarter of 2002 after broader government transportation-safety measures were instituted following the 9/11 attacks, with the primary causes being fear of flying and longer wait times.

Over Thanksgiving weekend last year, about 1.5 million Americans traveled by air. The number is forecast to rise 3.5 percent this year, but the vast majority of travelers overall--about 94 percent, according to AAA--will take to the open road for the holiday.

 

Hitting the road, however, could mean hitting another car. Since the initial airport-security changes, which increased wait times, highway fatalities have risen. From 2001 to 2002, fatalities increased by almost 1,000. The rate leveled off for a few years, but it jumped again in 2005 with another increase of about 1,000. Since then, highway deaths and apprehension about air travel have both decreased, but the recent saturation coverage of TSA pat downs could change all that.

"With regards to the extent that greater security causes people to not fly, there is an unintended consequence to public safety, because flying is the safest," said Garrick Blalock, an economist and a co-author of the report. "Thousands of thousands of people die on highways a year. How many have died from airplane terrorist attacks in the past few years? The probability on a per-mile basic is small. But people die in highway accidents all the time."

Deaths from terrorist attacks are rare, Blalock said, which leads him to believe that the possibility of such an attack is not what's keeping passengers off planes--it's impatience.

In polls taken in 2002 and 2003, Blalock found that passengers felt that the government's safety measures were necessary, although many avoided flying because of the checkpoints. Similarly, a recent CBS News poll found that 80 percent of those surveyed felt that the new body-scanning procedures were needed. Yet the methods have caused outrage, and a protest is planned on the busy Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

 

Blalock anticipates that airline passengers will eventually go with the flow of new guidelines as the procedures become more routine.

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