Reap the Rewards of Probability

Math has a bad reputation.  How often do you hear students say, “I’ll never use this in life”?  There are a myriad of rebuttals to that statement, but let’s use an application of probability that’s relevant to most of our lives, particularly if we have teenage children, as a small proof of how useful Math can be: the safety or risk of driving.

Let’s say that when you drive, you do so in such a way that every drive you take you’re 99.9% safe from getting in an accident.  Let’s also say that every day of the year you make only 2 trips per day.  What do you think or feel is the chance of getting in an accident after 1 year of driving?  After 10?  After 40?  If each drive is 99.9% safe, then we’re probably very safe, right?

After 1 year: There is a 52% chance of having been in an accident.  This isn’t speculation; it’s mathematical certainty that these are the odds of an accident under these conditions.  After 10 years: a 99.93% chance of having been in one.  After 40 years: a 99.99999999998% chance of having been in an accident.  (The math behind the latter, for instance, if anyone is interested is .999 raised to the power of 2 trips per day times 365 days in a year times 40 years.  This gives the percent chance of not getting in an accident, which is .00000000002%.  Subtract the latter number from 1, because there is a 100% chance of either being in an accident or not being in one, and you get your answer.)

Mathematics, specifically probability in this case, can help us understand the world and the effect of our choices in ways we typically can’t imagine without doing the calculations.  Probability also teaches the importance of strategic and long-term thinking.  Small actions, whether good or bad, done many times can have massive ramifications.  Understanding the true risks and rewards of our actions can help us gain an edge in life, whether that’s driving more safely, saving/investing a bit more to take advantage of compound interest, or studying and learning a little more each night and reaping the rewards of ever increasing knowledge.




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