How Smart is Your Parachute?|
The Risks and Rewards of High-Tech Life Insurance
By Gerry Smedinghoff - GerrySmedinghoff@worldnet.att.net
(continued) -- A Peek Behind the Numbers
Helmut Cloth's estimate that the actual number of Cypres saves is more than twice the reported number--or a 100 percent variance--is based on as a result of the combination of several interacting factors. Skydivers have a tendency to view altitude the way Las Vegas gamblers view luck: They allow their wishes to get ahead of their intellect and believe that more is available to them than is actually the case.
Airtec once conducted a test to measure skydivers' altitude perception. A Cypres unit was attached to a dummy skydiver, dropped from an airplane, and fired. The 35 expert skydivers who observed the test estimated the altitude of firing an average of 46 percent higher than where it actually occurred. In many incidents where a Cypres fires, the skydiver claims either (a) he was above an altitude where it should have fired, or (b) he was in the process of pulling the ripcord and the activation of the Cypres did not save his life. When a Cypres does fire, however, Airtec is able to dump the memory from the unit's microprocessor to more accurately determine the activation altitude. Although there's a margin for error in the measurement, the traditional skydivers' bias is evident.
Airtec GmbH's legal liability is--for all practical purposes--infinite, and skydiving is literally a matter of life-and-death (as opposed to advertising claims about a new-and-improved laundry detergent). This certainly accounts for Airtec's conservative bias in reporting Cypres saves.
"Airtec considers a 'save' to be only those incidents where all indications are that there would have been a fatality otherwise," says Cliff Schmucker of SSK Industries. "If the skydiver says he was in the process of pulling. . . [generally] it's not included on the list."
So it's possible that some lives on the 'saves' list may not be true saves, while there are probably other saves from around the world that are not reported back to Airtec. He concedes that Airtec has a "shaky statistical base [that doesn't] have a great world reporting/record keeping system (yet)," and iterates his caveat to "once again, please consider the possible statistical insignificance and pitfalls in overanalyzing the data."
Air Bag Calculation
Unlike Airtec, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn't have the luxury of a seriatim count of lives saved. Instead it must resort to statistical comparisons of fatalities in cars equipped with air bags to similar models without them. NHTSA acknowledges that this statistical methodology is subject to a 35 percent variance in the either direction of their estimate of lives saved. The $1,700,000 benchmark is calculated based on the midpoint of the NHTSA estimate of lives saved less the actual number of people killed by air bags--approximately one for every 30 lives saved. Also of note:
A dual air bag unit cost of $346 for a 1991 model car is assumed for all cars in all years. This ignores both inflation and the benefits of cost reductions from the technology learning curve. The cost per life saved can be scaled up or down in direct proportion to the average unit cost divided by $346. The number of lives saved by air bags is two-thirds less than initial NHTSA estimates dating back to the early 1980s, largely due to a five-fold increase in seat belt usage--from 14 percent in 1983 to 70 percent today. Air bags have been shown to decrease the incidence and severity of head and chest injuries, but they also are the cause of a corresponding increase in arm and lower-body injuries. Consequently, the NHTSA considers the offsetting effects of these injuries to cancel each other out and assumes that air bags do not significantly reduce bodily injuries. Now that dual air bags are mandatory for all cars and light trucks, the number of lives saved may increase slightly, as most of the early cars had driver air bags only. But the number of occupants killed may increase at a more rapid rate because the vast majority of people killed by air bags are front seat passengers. Surprisingly, at $150,000 per life saved, the mandatory mechanical seat belts in the average car are more expensive than high-tech AADs. As seat belt usage continues to climb, however, cost remains constant while the number of lives saved will increase, so the cost-per-life-saved will drop.
Finally, although the $125,000 AAD and $1,700,000 air bag cost-per-life-saved numbers were calculated using the same methodology, it should be stressed that the AAD figure lies toward the extreme conservative end of the range, while the air bag figure is in the mid-point of the range. If Airtec chose to get aggressive with its marketing, based on their data and expertise (both Helmut Cloth and Cliff Schmucker have made more than 1,000 skydives each), they could double the number of Cypres saves and halve the cost-per-life-saved figure down to the $60,000 range, or almost 1/30th the cost-per-life-saved by an automobile air bag.
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