Casual Fridays: Paranoid or responsible?

Most of us believe that the things we do to stay safe make a lot of sense. But some other people clearly are being unreasonably careful. One might even call them "paranoid." But is there a general consensus about how to stay safe in the modern world? Or does it depend -- on your age, where you live, or just your own personality quirks? Maybe this little survey will help us find out.

Click here to participate

As usual, the survey is brief, with 20 or so questions. It should take just a few minutes to respond. You have until Thursday, April 2 to complete your response. There is no limit on the number of respondents.

Don't forget to come back next week for the results!

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Done. Had a lot of N/As. And I have no idea what constitutes "average" crime rate in sleepy old Burbank, California. I decided to compare it with the whole LA/SFV area because everywhere touches everywhere else.

The questions about `home' make me think the author of this survey assumed people lived in a house and not in an apartment

1 - I don't ride a bike . . . last time I did get on one I did not wear a helmet but that was also 20+ years ago before we were that concerned with bashing our brains in. I also played with metal (and sometimes rusty) toys - yikes!

2 - My car automatically locks the doors whenever I go anywhere. You may get some skewed data with that one.

3 - Some of the questions were hard to answer. Like - leaving a bike unlocked outside? Safe or not? Well, it WILL get stolen (had one taken out of my backyard in broad daylight last summer - they did not even have the courtesy to shut my gate). But, is it really UNSAFE? Not really. No harm will come to my person. But, I marked yes because almost certainly a crime would be committed. I lock things up because theft rates are pretty high in Baltimore City and I don't want to incur financial loss. My feeling of actual safety is compromised by the thought of bodily injury or slow painful death and not theft.

By Charlotte (not verified) on 27 Mar 2009 #permalink

Women walking alone at night in my neighborhood -- rapes and assaults are rare, but harassment is pretty common. I don't recommend it because who needs the grief? Is that safe or unsafe? I dunno.

I was chatting last week with a visitor who lives in Brooklyn and was raised in Detroit. He asked whether a certain neighborhood was safe. I said, "Dude, you're a white man in good physical health. You know how to deal with panhandlers? You'll do fine."

I live in an urban area (downtown Cincinnati -- and yes, it's also an "urban" area, wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say-no-more), but it's nothing compared to truly depressed areas of the country. My biggest problem is convincing my suburban friends that they can come visit, walk around, and for Gawd's sake say "Hello" to people.

Regarding car and apartment locks -- I always lock them, because there are times they should be locked, and I am a creature of habit. If I don't lock doors when it's not necessary, I'll forget to do it when it is. So it's easier to just lock up every time. That's not because I'm paranoid; that's because I'm lazy.

"Attractive woman walking alone at night" ? Excuse me? What has attractiveness got to do with this? Was there a reason to include 'attractiveness' as a criteria? Did some respondents get 'Ugly woman walking alone...'?

There's a risk that by asking this sort of question you perpetuate a very dangerous rape myth ("only attractive women get raped"). I'm surprised at you.

On the 2nd floor (3rd in US speak) it would be paranoid to lock one's windows, but on the ground (1st) it's a sensible precaution...

By Philip Potter (not verified) on 27 Mar 2009 #permalink

I just wanted to clarify an N/A I put that might not make sense in the context of my other answers.
Even though I drive, I put N/A for the do you lock while driving question because my car AUTOMATICALLY locks the doors once the vehicle is being driven. A lot of cars do that but it's probably not very instinctive to think about when you read the results.

I love your surveys and they are always interesting, but I think this one could have been worded better in parts. For the questions about children playing outside, I rated them as fairly unsafe because the children might run out into traffic, but I don't know if you were considering all "actions of others" (e.g., careless driving) or just deliberate actions of others (e.g., kidnapping). Your results might be skewed by people's interpretations of your questions.

Also for the crime rate compared to average, there was no indication of whether by average you meant city/state/country/global. I considered a global average, which makes my home in a developed, peaceful country VERY safe compared to average. :)

Of course, since your surveys often have delightful twists, you might actually have meant the questions to be vague. :) I'm always entertained and fascinated by your surveys and responses. Keep up the great work!

Lots of N/As because I don't have a car.

I also was upset to see the "attractive woman walking alone" question (and nothing about men walking alone! anyone who's alone is a potential target for crime, but we don't socialize men to live in constant fear the way we do women). If someone is more attractive, they are perhaps more likely to be catcalled, but for sexual assault, it doesn't matter what a woman looks like. Perhaps some people got other versions of these questions, I don't know.

I'm sorry if people are offended by the "attractive woman walking alone" question. My main interest there is to see if there's a gender difference in responses. I probably should have asked about a man walking alone as well. It's always a balance between being thorough and inclusive and asking too many questions in a "casual" survey, but in this case I probably erred on the side of not being inclusive enough.

The "Gun/Tazer" questions should have had an N/A option. In the UK is almost an impossibility to own a gun (legally) and you cant carry a gun.

In the UK there is a lot of fear of knife crimes. The government tried to ban knives (!), but we do have laws that mean you have to have a 'good' reason to be carrying a knife. (Personal security is NOT taken to be a 'good' reason)

Also, carrying a blunt instrument, like a baseball bat, without good reason is also illegal. So keeping a baseball bat in the car for security is illegal, but if you play baseball then its OK to carry a baseball bat in the car! I believe golf is the 'sport' of choice in the UK.

While I did enjoy the survey, my personal experience may have severely biased my pattern of responses.

As a lifelong adventure sports addict (e.g., skydiving, scuba, rappeling, caving, catamaran sailing, etc.) safety has always been of paramount importance. This may also be true for many professions (e.,g., chemists, engineers, etc.)

My sports instructors, and myself when I became an instructor, always took the position that safety is a habit that requires full-time practice. Thus, while I may believe that the environment that I live is safe, I will always (due to training) put into practice the safest option available.

I try to always remember that error in my judgements regarding safety constitute a potential for serious personal danger. In this case, a little energy prevents a lot of pain and suffering.

I have to agree with assorted other commenters about the implicit bias in some of the questions. To the ones people have already mentioned, I'll add that the available evidence increasingly suggests that wearing a cycle helmet increases your chances of suffering a serious injury while riding. (See )

I echo Llano's comment that personal experience may severely bias my response pattern.

In my case, I grew up in a high crime area, so I learned to take precautions as a matter of course. I still take those precautions even though I now live in a low crime area (so low that one local police department posted signs around their town reminding people to take some of these precautions that are automatic to me). The crime rate is low here, but it isn't zero. Also, I sometimes venture into areas with higher crime rates.

You also didn't have a good match for the kind of area I live in. I'm in a small town which is some distance (more than 60 miles) from the nearest big city, but I live close to the center of this town. It's definitely not rural, it's not quite suburban, and it's not quite urban.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 28 Mar 2009 #permalink

This is the first time I've read the comments before taking the survey. It may have influenced my answers.

For example, even though I no longer ride a bicycle, it's unlikely I'd wear a helmet if I decided to take it up again, so I answered I don't wear one.

Statistically, the area where I live is one of the higher crime areas of the city, though it's far from the city center. It's also possible I don't completely understand urban and suburban. It's just that this little hidden dead end street is technically part of a high crime neighborhood, but itself experiences almost no crime except those exceeding the 25 mph speed limit.

If ONLY my car would fit in my garage. Perhaps you could do a survey on junk sometime? I answered that question as if garage meant "normal parking space at home". That left me with a problem when I got to the "outside" question.

I'm not careful about locking my car, but I'm paranoid about shutting the car door without my keys being visible in my hand. A few $50 locksmith calls will do that to you.

You would get completely different answers if my husband took this quiz.

I lock all windows and doors, but only because it keeps heat in better. Particularly with windows - they don't really close until they're locked.

Otherwise I probably wouldn't care...

I'd be very interested to see a comparable survey about online safety. Is it safe to post your real name online? Is it safe to post a picture of yourself? Pictures of your kids? Your kids' names? Dave, obviously you and Greta both have your real identities on here. But look at the comments; lots of first names only, some initials, one pseudonym. I wonder if there is a gender difference there, or a difference with the kind of work people do.

Partly I'm interested because my views have changed a lot since 12 years ago when I was part of this discussion:

I swear, I'm much less paranoid now!

My main interest there is to see if there's a gender difference in responses. I probably should have asked about a man walking alone as well.

That wasn't the point, though - there is statistically a difference between attacks on men and women. The problem was with stating that it was an attractive woman. Most muggers/rapists don't check attractiveness before pouncing. Besides, if it's at night, who will notice?

I had a different confounding factor on the windows - I got in the habit of locking them when I was trying to keep a precocious and inquisitive toddler from climbing out of them, rather than trying to keep anyone from getting in!

There were options for carrying a gun, and mace, but no option for carrying a knife or other (improvised) weapon.

By Ubu Walker (not verified) on 29 Mar 2009 #permalink

I live in Singapore. Which must be one of the safest cities in the world. In fact, I feel that the government here spends a great deal of time trying to make people more paranoid. But I came here from Los Angeles which is not so safe. So I do think what seems paranoid is a matter of where you live. When I lived in LA a "concerned citizen" berated me for letting my 10 year old daughter play at the end of our short street and here in Singapore little girls like mine ride the bus alone all around the city. I even give my daughter money and tell her to go to the mall and get this or that. But, then again, she usually carries a cell phone.

Some thoughts - the questions all deal with individual perceptions of danger levels, even the question about crime rates. I found myself wondering if I should judge the rate relative to other (worse/better) areas of the city or compare the rate to a state or national average. Also, the section about children's safety -- I suspect that my perception as a childless adult will likely be different than someone who has children

Living in Canada I didn't want to be lumped in with 'gun carrying' communities, perhaps because I was just involved with the 'road rage' conversation on Scientific American, where the presence or not of guns seem to indicate very different cultures.

I don't live in a community that carries guns, (and I don't want to ) but that is different than living where guns are common and choosing not to .

As someone else mentioned, I always get stymied by the urban/suburban/rural question. The smallish (100,000) city that I live in is not really "urban", but it's also not a suburb of the nearest large city, and it's definitely not rural. I wish you had a "Dave's Defs" available any time you used that set of options in one of your casual surveys...