Wednesday, July 7, 2010

How far should the Nanny State go?

Table saws. Old power tool, the most essential power tool in the wood shop. I started out using my grandfather's Walker Turner 8 inch saw more than 50 years ago. That saw went to my brother, and I moved on to a radial arm saw.
These things are dangerous, no doubt about it. They will sever any body part coming in contact with the blade. I still have all ten fingers, but my brother, who is at least as careful as I am, got cut badly a few years ago.
Some years ago, a safety device was invented. Electronics sense contact between flesh and blade and a clever mechanism stops the blade so rapidly that fingers survive with minor scratches. They do an impressive demo, running a hot dog into the spinning blade. The hot dog emerges unsliced. The inventor has raised capital, started a company to make tablesaws incorporating his "SawStop" technology.
The trial lawyers are moving into the field. One of them sued a leading maker of tablesaws for selling ordinary saws, lacking the "SawStop" technology, after an accident. The court agreed with the trial lawyer, and ruled the maker liable for selling an ordinary tablesaw. The case is under appeal.
The trial lawyer found a sympathetic reporter at NPR to did a piece on All Things Considered advocating his position. The NPR piece advocated federal regulations requiring the new, and costly, "SawStop" technology to be made mandatory on all new tablesaws.
Is this wise or fair public policy? Today conventional tablesaws and SawStop tablesaws compete in the market place. Consumers largely buy the conventional saws because they are considerably cheaper. Most people are deciding that the extra safety of the "SawStop" isn't worth the substantial extra cost. Should federal regulation prevail over the wisdom of the market place? Is the extra safety worth the cost? Who should make this decision, the individual or the government?

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