Coroner recommends

By Eric Crampton 15/02/2013 2


Search Google NZ for “Coroner recommends” and you’ll find:

The Coroners Act 2006 empowers coroners:
to make specified recommendations or comments (as defined in section 9) that, in the coroner’s opinion, may, if drawn to public attention, reduce the chances of the occurrence of other deaths in circumstances similar to those in which the death occurred; 

Persons appointed as Coroner “must have held a practising certificate as a barrister or solicitor for at least 5 years.”

I’m sure that these are all smart and diligent people. I’m also sure that there is no required training in cost-benefit analysis in a legal degree.

The problem seems to be in the Act. Pretty much anything that could reduce the chances of particular forms of death can be recommended; there’s no consideration anywhere of costs. It’s fine to say that that’s Parliament’s job. But Coronorial recommendations carry some weight – people take them as being something more than “This is something that could save lives, but I have no clue whether it’s worth it because I have zero training in policy assessment and cost-benefit analysis, so somebody else better figure out whether we’d be wasting a whole ton of resources in enacting it; moreover, the Act specifically asks me to just name any darned thing that might help even if it would cost a trillion dollars and save a life every fifty years.”

I’d be willing to bet that a reasonable proportion of the above recommendations would fail any serious cost-benefit analysis. Mandatory high vis clothing for cyclists, licenses for nail guns, and mandatory skateboard helmets all seem exceptionally unlikely to pass any kind of “is this a reasonable policy” test.

This economist recommends that either Coroners get training in cost-benefit analysis, or start noting the limitations of their recommendations.

Update: Matt Nippert points out that the Chief Coroner wants it mandatory that government respond to Coroner recommendations. I would hope that the default response would be “The value of a statistical life for policy purposes in New Zealand is $3.8 million; the policy seems exceptionally likely to impose costs in excess of $3.8 million per statistical life saved. Please go away and come back with something reasonable.”


2 Responses to “Coroner recommends”

  • There were 2 news stories over the last couple of days about motor vehicle/cycle accidents, one of which was fatal. In both cases the driver of the vehicle was found to have been in the wrong. In one case the coroner had called for high-vis gear to be compulsory for cyclists as a means of reducing such accidents.

    Unfortunately, in both cases the cyclists WERE WEARING hi-vis clothing. Methinks that is not necessarily the answer.

    • I’m not sure if the Coroner was wanting complete fluoro-garb instead of just the reflective vest.

      It’s a darned shame though. Coroner’s advice could be a useful input into cost-benefit and policy assessment. Instead they jump up and down about how some insanely intrusive thing they’ve come up with ought to be mandatory on everybody and how people should be lobbying the government for it.