TSA Drives People to Drive, Leads to More Death

Down with security theater! We have no evidence that TSA screenings at the airport stop any terrorists. Undercover Homeland Security agents have been able to sneak guns and bombs past TSA screeners with a 95% success rate.

In return for no benefit, we get the cost of more people dying by choosing highways over flyways:

The TSA doesn’t save lives, but it probably ends them. One paper by economists Garrick Blalock, Vrinda Kadiyali, and Daniel Simon found that, controlling for other factors like weather and traffic, 9/11 provoked such a large decrease in air traffic and increase in driving that 327 more people died every month from road accidents. The effect dissipated over time, but the total death toll (up to 2,300) rivals that of the attacks themselves.

Another paper by the same authors found that one post-9/11 security measure — increased checked baggage screening — reduced passenger volume by about 6 percent. Combine the two papers, and you get a disturbing conclusion: In their words, over the course of three months, “approximately 129 individuals died in automobile accidents which resulted from travelers substituting driving for flying in response to inconvenience associated with baggage screening.”

This isn’t just one set of studies; there’s other evidence that 9/11 led to an increase in driving, which cost at least a thousand lives. The 129 deaths per quarter-year figure is, as Nate Silver notes, “the equivalent of four fully-loaded Boeing 737s crashing each year” [Dylan Matthews, “The TSA Is a Waste of Money That Doesn’t Save Lives and Might Actually Cost Them,” Vox, 2017.05.17].

The TSA is about as useful as Donald Trump, building power on fear, tackling the wrong problems, and implementing policies that make America worse off.

20 Responses to TSA Drives People to Drive, Leads to More Death

  1. I’m not a fan of the TSA, but I continually see suggestions than we should just get rid of them entirely. Does that seems at all reasonable?

    Retrain them? Yes. Modify their procedures? Yes. Stop treating everyone as a criminal and start treating travelers as human beings? Yes. However at the end of the day we need to remind ourselves why they exist. The need for some amount of security exists, so we need to figure out how to address that need.

    That said, the TSA continues to demand more funding and one way for them to manipulate the story is to make lines longer to provoke responses from the airlines and from passengers. So they devote staff to pre-check lines which are almost always empty and they pull staff away from the regular security lines which leads to incredible wait times. All in the name of forcing Congress to up their funding.

    So the next time you fly if you happen to notice the staff milling around and wasting time you will know why. They just don’t care because their compensation isn’t tied to any meaningful metric like customer satisfaction, the number of passengers screened per hour, or the amount of contraband confiscated.

  2. Good Sense

    More bureaucratic government employees who are not held accountable for their actions.

  3. TSA needs to retool and refocus. They need to focus more on the ‘who’ and less on the ‘how.’ Israel Ben Gurion Airport (Israel’s primary airport) is often known as the gold standard when it comes to airport security. It Is not politically correct, or polite. http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/01/11/yeffet.air.security.israel/

  4. Daniel Buresh

    I fully believe getting rid of them is completely reasonable. We have merely shifted the threat from the planes to the lines. Take Brussels, Russia, and the LAX shooting for example.

    I would argue that the threat of hijackings is not even high enough to create such a panic. Two way locks on the cabin doors and a few bomb sniffing dogs for airports and you will essentially stop most all attempts.

    TSA hasn’t stopped a single attack, not one. They are now manipulating the system to try and provoke more funding even though there is no real way to even gauge their effectiveness. The terrorists won and we are now at hostage from employees who failed to become LEO but somehow now dictate who can and can’t fly. Security Theater on full display.

  5. The lines at O’Hare were incredible. This is before security. I think the least safe place to be and the place a terrorist could inflict the maximum damage today is in the massive lines waiting to be checked for security.

  6. Douglas Wiken

    Domestic airlines should be replaced with high speed light rail powered mostly by wind and solar energy. Too much of what the security industry and government have put in place are more to reassure good people that something is being done to protect them. Much of the show is ineffective or worse. Perhaps if our legislators would get their heads out of their partisan asses and work on real problems, these screwed up messes could be reduced.

  7. mike from iowa

    Not a single blame of dumbass dubya for this mess. If he and his crack(pot) team of national security experts had the least intellectual curiosity about dozen reports of mayhem to come-including the August 2001 pdb stating planes would be hijacked and flown into buildings- TSA nonsense might have been avoidable.

  8. Robert McTaggart

    WVU has a system called Personal Rapid Transit that has been in operation since 1975. Students ride it to get from one campus to another in Morgantown. Unfortunately, PRT never really caught on anywhere else.


    The system is electric, but it does not run on wind and solar. Those aren’t available when people want to ride and keep a schedule, and the power density is too low. Likely the PRT is powered by coal.

  9. TSA stands for Thousands Stadning Around.

    We send a rookie to fight off people who have spent their entire lives finding the holes in the system. The 911 terriosts broke no laws until they took the plane over. Passengers before 911 corporated with the terriosts this will never happen again.

    Passengers are the security for the airlines not the TSA

  10. Hank, I won’t claim to know what is in the mind of a terrorist, but it seems they are less interested in the sheer number of those killed or wounded and more interested in making a statement. Setting off an explosive device in any sports stadium during an event or in a concert hall would likely result in more casualties… but it likely wouldn’t instill the same amount of fear towards others as a hijacking of an aircraft would.

    I understand the TSA isn’t particular effective, although I do wonder if they have served as a deterrent. Reinforced cockpit doors and armed Air Marshall’s have probably done more, but I can’t entirely rule out some small impact from the TSA. They just need to become more effective and have some performance standards that they can be measured against. Clearly today’s system isn’t working – that much almost everyone can agree on.

  11. Douglas, we could go over the advantages of rail of air travel. (and there are many) People just want to get to where they are going as quickly as possible, and they forget to enjoy the trip.

  12. Craig,
    I really hope you are correct, but my bag is checked when I go to a major concert or sports venue. Compare that to when I walk into the airport, I get in line without any resistance, with a backpack on and a carry-on over my shoulder.

    If terrorists can force us into another level of security for the millions of fliers, even before we enter an airport, that is real terror.

  13. Any individual with a relatively clear background can get a job working for an airline or a contract ground handling company. These companies pay peanuts so they often times have to scrape the bottom for help. I briefly held a ground handling job during a gap year, and I was surprised at the backgrounds of some of my coworkers, we had sex offenders, drug users, etc.
    Most would recognize that poor pay and history of criminal activities would place someone at a higher risk for being coerced into assisting with a crime, either willfully or not. The holes exist in the system that could make this very possible. The TSA is just a good show to make it seems like things are air tight, when instead they are a leaky canvas sack.

    I do find it curious that my background investigation in order to get NEXUS/Global Entry (So I can use those pre-check and quick immigration lanes) was much more extensive (Including requiring an interview and a flawless background) than my background check to be able to walk onto into an airport and onto an airplane every day without any screening.

  14. Mr. Wiken is correct about the rails. If we can get Obama to sign off on going after the country that actually attacked us on 9/11, we could have those billions needed to build the thing. The senate actually voted on something and this is what they approved. The bill awaits Obama’s signature, will he do it or will he be like Bush and play the puppet?

  15. mike from iowa

    OT but related to terrorism- South Carolina wingnut Trey Gowdy finally admitted the military could not have done anything to stop,prevent or fight off Benghazi attack-but, his 8th investigtion is going to continue. I guess they think they can tarnish HRC if they leave the door open some more. What another waste of precious assets to hunt witches.

  16. Douglas Wiken

    Enemies like Trey Gowdy are one of the few reasons to support Hillary Clinton. Unfortunately her friends in the banking and securities industries are reasons to support Bernie Sanders.

    There are ways to use wind and solar to produce compact energy for times when wind and solar are not available. The power supplied will not be the peak power available when the wind and sun are optimal, but the average can be worked out to provide all the power high speed light rail would require. We have wasted enough money in Iraq and Afghanistan to have completely converted all US energy to wind, solar, and better hydroelectric.

    How many low islands need to be submerged by rising oceans before the reality of global warming sinks into the heads of policy makers? Incidentally good cartoon today. The author of a book on “The fallacy of Global Warming” is lamenting that his manuscript burned up in the forest and grass fires.

  17. Robert McTaggart

    The PRT (above) is electric and runs through all kinds of weather, sunny or cloudy, wet heavy snow, etc. with no solar or wind. It is not high speed, but it is reliable. WV is not great for either solar or wind throughout the year.

    I don’t know of any transportation system that runs on solar or wind only. Nevertheless, using wind and solar to reduce the amount that you would need from other sources, along with other efficiency measures, would be terrific.

  18. I am curious to see how this hyperloop is going to play out. It is like putting people in a pipeline.

    I did a bit of research. currently to travel by train from New York to Los Angles would take just short of 3 days cost 455.00, (including almost 5 hour layover in Chicago)

    By plane it would take six to eight hours (not including 3 to 4 hours to get through security) and I found fare as low as 136.

  19. Craig, the only meaningful metric for security measures like TSA is security threats stopped. I want to believe we’re at least getting some deterrence for our sacrifice of time and liberty, but the evidence isn’t there. Just the grit thrown in our economy by airport delays is an ongoing victory for the terrorists.

  20. jerry-good point. let’s see. haven’t studied it yet.