Technical expertise and risk conflict: An institutional study of the British compulsory seat belt debate
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- Irwin, A. Policy Sci (1987) 20: 339. doi:10.1007/BF00135870
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Controversy and public conflict seem to be inevitable features of contemporary risk debates. In the face of such disputes, one common response has been to characterise disagreement as a disparity between expert analyses of ‘actual’ risk, and emotional ‘perceptions’ of hazard. This paper uses the example of the British policy debate over compulsory seat belt wear in order to argue that these characterisations are inaccurate and obstructive. Instead, an ‘institutional’ perspective on such issues is advocated - this perspective considers the effect of political and organisational factors in shaping the direction of public debate. The analysis here focuses particularly on expert disagreement over the likely effectiveness of seat belt laws - the debate over ‘risk compensation’ is reviewed both before and after the introduction of seat belt laws as an ‘experimental’ measure.