Flights of Fancy
The background noise of safetyism
A photograph taken at Paddington Station by Peter Hitchens shows a staircase with every step adorned with an admonition. No mobiles; Don’t rush; One step at a time; Please take care; above all Please use lifts: that is to say don’t take the stairs at all.
The warnings give the impression that stairs are very dangerous. It is true that 700 people a year in England and Wales die of falls on stairs, the young often drunk and the old often frail. On the London Underground, however, there were 2 fatal accidents in 2016-7, that is to say one for every 700,000,000 journeys.
On the modest assumption that each journey involved at least two flights of stairs, and that both the fatal accidents were from falls on stairs, this means that the danger of death from walking up or down stairs was, at the most, 1 in 1,400,000,000 each time. (Naturally, lesser accidents were more common.) On the railways as a whole, the overwhelming cause of deaths on the system was suicide, followed by trespassing.
Theodore Dalrymple is a contributing editor of City Journal and a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
This piece originally appeared in The Critic