A reconstruction of the history of research on the monetary valuation of road safety as a scientific research programme.

Research on the monetary valuation of road safety has a history going back more than 50 years. However, the theoretical foundation on which almost all this research is based today, the willingness-to-pay theory, was established as the only defensible foundation for this type of research around 1970, principally by Schelling, Mishan and Jones-Lee. Since then, literally hundreds of studies have been made to determine the willingness-to-pay for a reduced risk of accidental death, not only in road traffic, but also in other modes of transport and other sectors of society.

However, there is no consensus among researchers regarding the best methods for eliciting willingness-to-pay. Nor do any of the empirical estimates reported in the literature command wide support. On the contrary, the field is characterised by a bewildering multiplicity of methods and approaches and by an embarrassing variation in estimates of the value of saving a life. No convincing explanation of the huge diversity of estimates has been given. Many of the results contradict the theoretical foundations of the research, i.e. if taken at face value, they amount to falsifications of willingness-to-pay theory.

One might think that research is abandoned when it is so unsuccessful. This has so far not happened. On the contrary, valuation studies continue to be made and reported and the enormous amount of anomalous results does not seem to have deterred researcher from pushing on. How can research continue when most reasonable people would conclude that it has been an utter failure?

The Hungarian-born philosopher of science, Imre Lakatos, developed a theory of science that may explain why valuation research perseveres in the face of the huge adversity facing it. The theory, the methodology of scientific research programmes, explains how results that are anomalous do not necessarily lead researchers to reject the theory that forms the hard core of a research programme. On the contrary, anomalous results may stimulate research, by guiding researchers to develop more sophisticated methods that are hoped to eliminate the anomalies.

The project will not only reconstruct the history of valuation research, but also discuss other perspectives and approaches to monetary valuation, as it must be regarded as rather unlikely that the current research programme will ever produce findings that are widely accepted and regarded as scientifically well-founded.

Contact person: Rune Elvik


Gaustadalléen 21
0349 Oslo, Norway

Phone: +47 22 57 38 00