The Top Eight Safety Attempts That Totally Backfired

December 1, 2009

It's a rule: any kind of technology will have unexpected side effects.  Just like nobody thought UNIVAC would wind up destroying the music industry, or that YouTube would make cats more popular than humans, sometimes attempts to make things safer and more decent backfire.  Whether it's just making your morning commute that much more annoying to giving you cancer, here are some "safety" ideas that should have died on the drawing board.

Source: Johannes Kroemer/Stockbyte/Getty Images

By Dan Seitz


8. Electric Cars Make Car Stereos Just That Much More Annoying

All right, so we admit that a car that sounds like one of the spinners from Blade Runner is actually kind of awesome.  And it's nice they want to warn pedestrians with some sort of noise to replace the roar of an engine as it burns through a red light.  Or would be, if we only had to hear it once.  It doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure out that hearing nothing but those, constantly, all day, on your commute would slowly drive you crazy.

So leave it to carmakers, who clearly don't understand the concept of "noise pollution" or "everybody really, really hates the guy with the $5,000 sound system in his car" to cross this with the idea of selling "car tones."  Yes, ringtones for your car.  So now, instead of hearing the jerk in front of you blow out his muffler, you can be subjected to an endless thirty-second-loop of some top 40 hit all the way to work!  Or even better, he'll hook up his iPod, turning his car into a cross between the Top 40 station from hell and an ice cream truck.


7. BioBags Designed for Hippies, Make The Earth They Love So Sad



While having a rotting trash bag may not sound awesome, the idea is that instead of being the black plastic sheets that seem to be made of tissue paper instead of dead dinosaurs, which stick around forever, BioBags will rot away into the comforting fecund bosom of Mother Earth.

...Who's sweating her butt off from all the greenhouse gases those biodegradable bags put out.  The idea is that bacteria chow down on these bags, but the thing is, the bacteria can turn these bags into methane, which in addition to being the key to lighting farts is also a potent greenhouse gas (PDF).  It is, in fact, such a risk of pumping this crap into the atmosphere, even the hippies who buy these things don't use them for anything other than compost.  So, nice try, hippies, but the dinosaurs win again!


6. Child-Safety Software Monitors Everything Your Kids Do and Then Sells It To Marketing Departments


Source: EchoMetrix

While we don't have, and don't want, kids ourselves, we can understand parents wanting to protect their kids.  After all, Chris Hansen found pedophiles on the Internet every week!  Of course, if it blocks the websites of certain fine upstanding cable networks, or more specifically, episodes of The Deadliest Warrior, which are vital in leading growing boys to a healthy manhood, then it's terrible software and you should delete it.

Of course, you might also want to delete it because it might be recording the IM conversations of children and selling them to the highest bidder.  But hey, at least you don't have to worry about those pedophiles.  Just monolithic corporations knowing everything about your kids.


5. Airbags Hate Your Face


Source: Don Johnston/Stone/Getty Images

Airbags are a great safety innovation.  Instead of your face hitting a thick chunk of rubber and plastic at high speed, you hit a cushion of air.  What could go wrong with that?

Airbags are designed to keep you from dying, not keep you looking pretty, and to do that, they have to deploy really fast.  So fast they can literally send you flying if you sit on one. So chances are if they deploy, unless you're wearing your seatbelt, you have a pretty good chance of slamming your melon right into what amounts to an air ram. In fact, seatbelts actually do a better job of keeping your handsome features in place than airbags according to one study. On the other hand, you can't set up a seatbelt to go off hilariously in someone's face, so you take the good with the bad.


4. The Legal Drinking Age Kills Fun, Doesn't Stop People From Dying


Source: Peter Dazeley/Photodisc/Getty Images

We're sure everybody reading this enjoys a brew, a shot, or maybe a fine glass of wine (both of you, and don't think we don't know who you are).  And of course, you probably enjoyed one well before you were supposed to under the law, along with everybody else who ever went to high school in a town that had a liquor store and one kid who had an older brother. 

The legal drinking age was raised to lower drinking fatalities, which is noble and all, but it didn't actually work.  Turns out that changing the drinking age under the law shockingly had no effect whatsoever on either teenagers' ability to get booze or their ability to do stupid things while drunk.  Politicians decided to blame it on "kids today" and that newfangled Internet that obviously lets them download cases of Bud Light.


3. Cops Don't Have to Kill People Anymore...But Can Torture Them Now!


Source: Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images

As anybody who's ever seen one of the more boring episodes of Cops will know, 99% of most police confrontations don't end with what the police like to politely call "the use of force", in other words putting a cap in somebody's ass.  And luckily, we've developed "less-lethal" weaponry like Tasers and mace, which both let criminals be captured more safely and have made "guy getting tasered in the nuts" a comedy staple on the Internet.

The problem, though, is the technology is starting to get so good that police might soon have "pain rays" that don't leave any sort of mark or damage.  Which means that these things can be, say, left pointed at the wrong guy in the interrogation room while the cops go grab about fifteen coffees, and nobody except the guy who just got his nuts microwaved for hours would know about it.  

In other words, science has turned beating a guy with a phone book into something you can put in your pocket.  Thanks, science.  Thanks a lot.


2. The Anti-Prankster Fire Alarm Burns Non-Pranksters


Source: amanda vivan/Flickr/Getty Images

The entire problem with fire alarms is that any idiot can just walk up and pull them, and then run away, even if there's not a fire going on.  Ask anybody who's been in a college dorm for five minutes, it's something the drunk and stoned find absolutely hilarious.  This is why fire alarms have covers that scream bloody murder when opened or are covered in an invisible dye.  But back in Grandpa's day, they were a lot more hard-assed and unforgiving about pranks.

Which is probably why a patent for a fire alarm that drops a shackle around the person's wrist exists.  Oh, it doesn't shackle you to the alarm, it just drops a heavy piece of steel around your wrist.  Hope you didn't need to run quickly or fit through a small opening like, say, a window!


1. The Army's Tungsten Bullets Don't Give You Lead Poisoning...Just Cancer!


Source: Salah Malkawi/Getty Images News/Getty Images

For a long time, the Army made their training munitions out of lead, and at some point, somebody realized that maybe having about 400 million pellets of lead all over the place was probably a safety hazard.  So, with the help of a guy whose last name was, seriously, Arthur Pizza (PDF), they switched to the much cuddlier tungsten.

Tungsten is good for practice shooting, and it won't leach into the soil or water, so it's perfect!  Well, that's what they thought, anyway.  Turns out tungsten gives you cancer. So, basically, all the Army really did was switch out lead poisoning for leukemia.  Then again, it is kind of awesome they're running around out there with cancer-causing bullets.  Getting shot or getting cancer: one way or the other, the Army gets its man.