(group) Seattle has a municipal ordinance requiring that new multilevel parking garages have barriers at least 18 inches high to stop automobiles from going through the walls. The ordinance was not made retroactive. When a car broke through a fifth-floor wall in a parking garage that did not have the 18-inch barriers because it had been constructed prior to the ordinance, three people were killed. A local newspaper editorialized as follows:
It was a freak, as well as tragic, accident. The odds against a similar occurrence are high. Yet certainly it is possible. The City Council therefore must not hesitate in ordering that all multilevel garages in the city be brought into compliance with current safety standards.
- What is the flaw in the editorial's argument?
I see little flaw in the argument, given that the board feels that life is more valuable than the cost of retrofitting garages. It is possible the additional cost of retrofitting older parking garages will cause many garage owners to convert their garages to other, less safe uses, such as leaving boarded up property to the abuse of drug addicts and homeless people. However, I don't know the probability that will happen. Perhaps they will just tear the structures down and turn them into safe, for-profit parks. The cost might be high to do so, but if the city feels the value of human life is higher, it's a rational argument.
- Why does it often make sense to apply more stringent safety standards only to new construction while exempting existing structures? Consider, for example, a proposal to make all housing "earthquake proof."
Because the cost of retrofitting existing buildings to the new standards is higher for the same amount of safety than the cost of building in safety from the beginning. If the cost rises higher than the value one places on life and lack of injury, then it's a bad idea.