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Analyst: TSA methods ‘will kill more Americans on highway’

The recent public ire toward the TSA’s new pat-down and body imaging
screening methods is likely to cause more people to drive automobiles
and forego airline travel, say two transportation economists who have
studied the issue.

As the nation readies for one of the busiest traveling holidays,
Steven Horwitz, a professor of economics at St. Lawrence University,
told The Hill that the probable spike in road travel, caused by adverse
feelings towards the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) new
screening procedures, could also lead to more car-related deaths.

“Driving is much more dangerous than flying, as you are far more
likely to be killed in an automobile accident mile-for-mile than you
are in an airplane,” said Horwitz. “The result will be that the new TSA
procedures will kill more Americans on the highway.”

Clifford Winston, a senior fellow of economic studies at the
Brookings Institute, stopped short of saying that more people could die
as a result of the TSA policies, but said that the airline industry
will definitely see a decline in passengers if the public’s contempt
for the pat-downs and advanced-imaging technology systems continues.

“They added another wrinkle to airline travel by saying they’re
going to screen you more thoroughly,” said Winston. “Demand for
transportation takes into account the price, but also the time, and if
you add on top of that the disutility or annoyance of having to be
groped, then for some people that’ll also have an effect.”

Under new TSA rules, passengers are required to go through advanced
imaging technology units. But because some people believe that the
technology is too invasive, TSA officials give people the option of
passing through a metal detector or receiving a pat-down, which some
have said makes them feel like they’re being groped.

The public outcry over these methods caused the chairman of the
House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), to
write a letter to TSA head John Pistole on Friday asking for him to
“reconsider” using the methods.


Thompson also said that the TSA should have told people about the
techniques and “had a conversation with the American people about the
need for these changes” while making sure to conduct and publicize
privacy and civil liberties evaluations.

“By not issuing these assessments, the traveling public has no
assurance that these procedures have been thoroughly evaluated for
constitutionality,” said Thompson in the letter, which was also signed
by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), the chairwoman of the Homeland Security
subcommittee on Transportation, Security, and Infrastructure
Protection.

Pistole has been at the center of growing public concern about the
new pat-down techniques, which he described to senators earlier this
week as “clearly more invasive” than the traditional screening airline
passengers have received in the past. But, he said, the invasiveness is
justified by the level and types of threats to the airline industry to which he is privy.

Pistole told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs
Committee this week that the pat-down technique was so thorough that,
had it been used, it would have thwarted the suspected Christmas Day
bomber, who allegedly hid an explosive device in his underwear.

The TSA was not planning to alter the newly imposed security
measures for passengers, Pistole said. But on Friday the TSA revised
its initial screening policies in response to objections from a growing
chorus of pilots so that now they will be exempt from being scanned or
patted down.

Earlier this week in protest of the screening measure, a group
began organizing a “National Opt-Out Day” for next Wednesday, the day
before Thanksgiving and one of the heaviest sky trafficked days of the
year.

The airline industry has gradually bounced back since the Sept.
11, 2001, plane attacks, when it saw its profits drastically dip for many
months as passengers opted for other travel means or not to travel
altogether. But the recent controversy over the screening methods could
cause that uptick in profits to be short-lived, said Horwitz and
Winston.

“It probably won’t be as big as the original effect of post 9/11,
but it will be a chunk of airline travel,” said Winston. “And it will
make it that much harder to move back to a more user-friendly
environment.”

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