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Scary Cars & Harm Reduction

Introduction There are a number of different models and philosophies that have been applied to define drug problems and attribute causative factors. These models also inform how we address drug problems. I thought it might be fun to apply these models to another risky behaviour like driving to see if the models actually made any sense.

The Moral Model The moral model assumes that drug use is bad, evil and a result of moral weakness. An appropriate response, according to this model is to persuade drug users as to the error of their ways. The application of the moral model to cars and driving would result in the stigmatisation of drivers as lesser citizens engaging in a deviant behaviour. A state sanctioned application of the moral model to driving would be to punish people who breach the moral norms by engaging in the morally weak act of driving.

The Verdict: I sometimes feel a twinge of guilt about the impact on the environment that my driving causes but I don’t think that the act of driving could be characterised as morally weak.

The Disease Model The disease model shifts the problem from a moral emphasis to a health perspective. This model assumes that drugs are okay but that some people are not. People with a ‘drug problem’ are assumed to have some physical and/or mental predisposition that inclines them to problematic drug use. An appropriate response according to this model is to promote complete abstinence from all drugs resulting in a remission of the health problem. The application of the disease model to drivers would allow for many cars and drivers to remain on the road, however anybody who experienced car related harm would be persuaded to abstain from motor vehicles all together. Photo source:

The Verdict: I’ve never met anybody that was utterly compelled to drive unless they were trying to desperately put distance between themselves and somebody else.

The Pharmacological Model This model assumes that drugs are dangerous and overpowering, therefore people need to be protected from them. People who experience drug problems are victims of the overwhelming properties of the drug. An appropriate response according to this model is institute legislation to protect people from these dangers. When applied to cars and car related harms this model assumes that people are the helpless victims of all that power under the hood. The car is so powerful and dangerous that car related harms are unavoidable, therefore we should make the possession and/or selling of cars illegal.

The Verdict: Unless you own Christine or maybe KITT there is no way that your car is going to drive itself let alone take over your free will‌maybe sometime in the future‌

The Drug/Car Triangle This model assumes that there is no one factor that is a causative factor in drug related harm. Instead it assumes that the relationship of a range of factors contribute to drug related harm. An appropriate response according to this model is to examine the relationship between different factors. The diagram below demonstrates how this model works when applied to car related harm.

As we can see by the overlaps the reduction of car related harms is dependent upon a range of factors. Reducing, increasing or eradicating any of the factors can lead to a reduction in the probability of ‘car harm’.

For example:

An inexperienced driver (individual factor) is driving on an ice covered road (environment) in a car that has no air bags or seatbelts (car). We can reduce the likelihood of car related harm by:

1. Increasing the experience of the driver through the provision of more rigorous training 2. Reducing the amount of ice on the road through maintenance and design 3. Increasing the safety features of the car through legislation and design standards.

The Verdict: This is the model that most accurately reflects what we do to reduce the harms related to cars.

Why is all of this important? Well it seems that we don’t have a problem applying the Triangle Model to cars. Cars remain a harmful yet generally accepted commodity within our society. Just because cars cause harm, we do not apply a moral framework, nor do we seek to explain the phenomena of car related harm through the lens of absolute powerlessness that is applied according to both the pharmacological and disease models. Drugs and drug related harms however continue to be subject to these models in many quarters, resulting in the incarceration and stigmatisation of people who use drugs. The promotion of Harm Reduction requires that we also promote a number of assumptions that people apply to other dangerous, yet taken for granted activities in their every day lives.

“I don’t promote drug use. I don’t promote car accidents either, but I still think seatbelts are a pretty good idea”

Scary Cars and Harm Reduction  
Scary Cars and Harm Reduction  

An examination of how we judge risky behaviours by different standards according to our beliefs