The Perfect Crime (Ep. 165 Rebroadcast)

Listen now:
(Photo: Martin Fisch)

(Photo: Martin Fisch)

This week’s Freakonomics Radio episode is a rebroadcast of the episode “The Perfect Crime” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

But let’s be clear: Dubner isn’t suggesting that anyone actually try this. In fact, the problem is that too many people are doing it already.

So what’s “the perfect crime”? It turns out that if you are driving your car and run over a pedestrian, there’s a good chance — especially if you live in New York — that you’ll barely be punished. Why?

We hear from Lisa Smith, a former prosecutor and now a law professor, who tells us that just 5 percent of the New York drivers who are involved in a fatal crash with a pedestrian are arrested. As it happens, New York has particularly narrow standards for conviction in such cases; there is a lot of variance among states.

read more…



I had a thought while listening to your excellent podcast. There is another possible explanation for the recent relative increase in pedestrian deaths. Many more cars are now on the road with two important features:
1. "A" pillar airbags which significantly increase the size of the frame member at the edge of the windshield.
2. Aerodynamically slanted windshields which pull the position of the "A" pillar significantly farther forward than in older designs.
I believe these two factors have significantly contributed to less visibility for the driver while turning. Relatively small objects like bicyclists and pedestrians can much more easily be missed in newer cars. Tall drivers like me who sit farther back from the windshield are in an even worse position.


this made me think of something i read a few years ago according to the cdc in 2013 there were (approximately)35000 poisoning deaths 32000 traffic deaths (23000 alcohol related) and 31000 gun deaths but i have never heard a psa about poisoning deaths also i and several friends have been hit by cars and i think because the laws are so strict here in california the tend to drive away to avoid prosecution i have only had one stop of 3

Joe D

Are you too young to remember the "Mr. Yuck" PSAs? Green yuck-face stickers were available for free for parents to stick on household chemical bottles, etc.


I don't understand why so many people chose to turn their back to danger. Roads are for cars. Why are you ridding your bike or walking with your back to them? Aren't you better off walking or ridding against the flow of cars, so you can see what's coming?


Sorry, but roads are for bicycles too. If you will check your state or provincial traffic laws, you will almost certainly find that riding in the direction of traffic is legally required.


Does turning your back to the danger make sense to you?

Don Bookem

This podcast has the tone of someone desperately seeking a topic. I’m a cop and deal with personal misery every day. I hate (HATE!) the politically correct statement, “Just one death caused by (fill in the tragedy) is one too many.” Let me solve a mystery for everyone. You are going to die. No way to escape this fact.

Cars and people often share the same space. In case of conflict, the item with more mass wins. Seeking greater punishment against a driver for accidentally killing a pedestrian is similar to seeking punishment for the suburbanite mowing his lawn and killing a frog. He didn’t want to kill the frog. He wasn’t trying to kill the frog. But frogs and mowers work the same space. Rarely is the mower going to lose. Locking up the suburbanite adds no value to society.

You also make the point that the lone witness in a vehicle-pedestrian collision is the driver. Really? There are no other drivers or pedestrians in that area of New York when these collisions occur? C’mon, man!

Loved your books, but I’ve given up on your podcasts. You guys need to stop this freaking nonsense.


Joey Numbaz

Tthis was essentially the basis of a Quincy episode way back when. Guy pretended to be drunk and killed someone on purpose with his car. He knew the penalties for drunk driving were so low he'd get off with a short sentence. Quincy of course figured it out, and the ep was meant to draw attention to the lax laws.


I have to say the timing of these past two podcasts has made my girlfriend very suspicious. First time she walks into my office and hears on my computer how to make a perfect online dating profile. Laughs and asks if we need to talk. A short time later, she hears about a perfect crime and getting away with murder. No laughs just stunned silence.

Can your next podcast deal with the best way to show commitment?


If we're going to make the analogy that cars are like bullets, then let's make the proper analogy. It's not like shooting a gun into the air. That's aimless and without purpose.

Let's go to a shooting range, where there's a very clear firing lane between the shooters and the targets, and the shooters are focused on hitting their target. Now, let's put a pedestrian crosswalk across the firing lane.

Oh, don't worry. We'll put traffic lights so that everyone knows when shooters can go and when pedestrians can go. Guess what? Sooner or later, there *will* be someone shot. Is that being reckless or an accident?

The shooters were focused on hitting their target, just like drivers are focused on reaching their destination. The pedestrian is focused on getting across the lane just like pedestrians in the real world. And both sides have faith that the other side is watching out for them. ...Until one side is not paying attention -- either driver or pedestrian -- and there's an accident.