Driving Up Fatalities: Why Flight Vaccine Mandates Would (Likely) Backfire
During the height of the covid-19 pandemic, some politicians and voters advocated for covid vaccine mandates for air travel. And while this proposal has some intuitive pull, there are likely tradeoffs here that could result in more deaths overall as a by-product of increasing the cost and trouble of air travel, incentivizing travelers to choose another form of travel: driving. And since driving is more dangerous, flight vaccine mandates would (likely) backfire.
When increasing the cost of a good or service, the substitution effect is salient. A change in the price of a good or service affects the consumption of that good or service and that of comparable goods and services. A flight vaccine mandate would increase the cost of flying, at the margin, for many: it requires time and effort, risks negative side effects, can conflict with political beliefs and practices, and so forth. A case study on the substitution effect after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, shows an increase of people who chose to drive instead of fly. As the researchers explain,
[While] we are unable to identify . . . the reasons for the 9/11 effect, our evidence is consistent with arguments that fear of flying [and] the increased inconvenience of stricter airport security led many travelers to drive rather than fly. Our results show that the public’s response to terrorist attacks can have unintended consequences that rival the attacks themselves in their severity.
The authors of the paper argue that the terrorist attack likely induced a substitut
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