Monday, July 4, 2011

A Rush To Regulation

On June 27th, David Sieradzki, a tourist from South Carolina, died while parasailing off of Bradenton Beach. The engine on the boat stalled, and the resultant loss in speed caused Sieradzki to drop into the water. When he was reeled back onto the boat, he was dead.

Clearly there are a lot of unknowns in this case. I have been parasailing before, and the operator slowed down on purpose to allow each customer to dip their feet in the water. Something more had to happen to contribute to Mr. Sieradzki's tragic death.

Despite the unknown cause of death, both of the major newspapers in the Tampa Bay area wrote editorials advocating more state regulation of parasail operators. From the St. Petersburg Times (emphasis added):
Exactly why David Sieradzki, 31, died Monday while parasailing won't be known until completion of an autopsy. But this is the second parasailing death off Florida's west coast in a year, a reminder that this inherently dangerous activity needs to come under government standards, particularly when it is being offered as a commercial activity.
I responded with the following unpublished letter to the Times:

Your editorial advocating parasailing regulations may be a well-meaning attempt to provide for the safety of others, but using the tragic death of Mr. Sieradzki as just cause is irresponsible.

Your editorial itself admits that the cause of Mr. Sieradzki's death is unknown. There is as of yet no empirical way to link his death to imprudent behavior on the part of the parasail operator. Yet you still quickly siezed the opportunity to demand action that fits your ideological worldview - government regulation of private enterprise.

You further advocated for regulation because parasailing "is being offered as a commercial activity." This is precisely why regulation is a poor solution for safety concerns. Because parasailing firms seek profits dependent on their record and reputation among consumers, the market already provides the incentive and regulation necessary to ensure that safe practices are followed. The fact that such tragedies like that of Mr. Sieradzki are rare enough to warrant an editorial are testament to the effectiveness of such a system.

To put my last point in perspective is this bit from the original TBO report I linked:

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates 70 to 120 commercial parasail operators exist statewide. The Parasailing Safety Council said that from 1990 through September 2009, there were more than 380 parasailing accidents resulting in 22 deaths in the United States and its territories.

Any single death is a tragedy, and I don't intend to undermine that. But 22 deaths in 19 years is not a crises, especially given the enormous amount of instances where parasailing is done without incident.