A terror attack often strikes twice - snuffing out lives and later shaping our response to the event, which could be as damaging as the first, a study says, citing a spurt in traffic accidents after 9/11 as people feared to fly, a study says.
In the year following the terrorist attacks of Sep 11, 2001, there were approximately 1,600 more traffic fatalities in the US than expected.
This figure suggests the possibility that fear may have led them to choose driving over flying, which may have ultimately led to additional deaths through traffic fatalities, the journal Psychological Science reports.
But fear does not tell the whole story. As Wolfgang Gaissmaier and Gerd Gigerenzer of the Harding Centre for Risk Literacy at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany, observe, the changes in driving behaviour observed after 9/11 varied widely across different regions of the US and did not just occur in those states closest to the attacks where fear was presumably strongest.
Gaissmaier and Gigerenzer hypothesized that another factor might have played a central role: driving opportunity, according to a Max Planck statement.
While fear provides a motivational explanation, in order for people to substitute driving for flying there had to be an environmental structure that allowed fear to manifest in a behaviour change.
They collected data on the number of miles driven and the number of traffic fatalities a month from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. They also gathered data on fear and driving opportunity.
The results show that people did in fact drive more following 9/11: Across all states, the average monthly increase in miles driven per inhabitant was 27.2 miles in the three months following the attacks.
This increase was significantly greater than that observed in the same three-month period in the five years leading up to 2001.
"To be able to foresee where the secondary effects of catastrophic events could have fatal consequences, we need to look at the environmental structures that allow fear to actually manifest in dangerous behaviours," said the study co-authors.