Monday, 25 August 2008

Lies, damned lies, and statistics: Road safety edition

I have a serious problem with most authorities-derived news reports relating to road safety and the road toll.

Well, actually, I have a couple.

Number one is that they only report on the road toll, which is to say the number of people who die. Why do I have a problem with this? Repairing or replacing vehicles can run into many thousands of dollars for uninsured surviving drivers, and drives up insurance premiums for the insured. The ambulance system is already stretched to warping point, and doesn't need the extra work. "Survivors" can end up needing care costing more than $100,000 per year for the rest of their lives (I am not making that up). Emergency rooms and emergency room staff are no better off than the ambulance system and its paramedics.

But never mind that, what's the other problem?

They never report the same numbers, and they never report comparisons.

Take this news story, which appeared in my news feeds this morning:

Drink driving blamed for 105 Queensland road deaths in 2007 (Courier Mail)

It's your basic "People died last year because they were doing stupid things x and y, and Police can't believe that they're still doing them" story, which only serves to reinforce the worrying gullibility, blinkerdness, short-sightedness and ineffectiveness applied to the road safety issue in modern Queensland.

It also contains this paragraph, right at the top in approved inverted-pyramid news writing style:

Queensland Transport research shows drink-driving was to blame for 105 of the 360 lives lost on state roads in 2007 - more than speeding (95), fatigue (65) and inattention (53).

Crunching the numbers, this leads to:
  • Drink-driving: 29.2%
  • Speeding: 26.4%
  • Fatigue: 18.1%
  • Inattention: 14.7%
Which, if you ignore petty little things like multiple causes and the difficulty of actually assessing speeding, and the fact that "speeding" includes "inappropriate speed" as assessed by things like skid marks at the scene, not actually "breaking the posted speed limit" which is all the "enforcement"*cough*punishment*couch* activities focus on, is fair enough. Except that the 2003 summary, where they reported non-fatal crashes as well, read like this (fatal crashes first, all crashes in total second):
  • Alcohol and other drugs: 38%/11%
  • Failure to obey traffic rules: 29%/41%
  • Inattention: 26%/29%
  • Speed: 16%/5%
  • Fatigue: 13%/5%
I'll leave you a few seconds to stare, scratch your head and say "What the fuck?"

We can come up with these conclusions:
  • Road rules (they are no longer bothering with this one why?): nearly half of all crashes, which means that running lights and signs, not giving way etc. is, not surprisingly, responsible for a lot of work for panel-beaters, insurance companies and hospital staff;
  • If you're pissed, you're not actually more likely to crash, but you're much more likely to die if you do;
  • Watch the road!
  • Going too fast and being too tired are actually really safe.
Excuse me, what was that last one? Oh yes, speeding contributes to 5% of all crashes, but you're more likely to die if you do. Oh wait, that was in 2003. In 2007, after four years of road safety campaigning and the introduction of more speed cameras, we have no idea about the all-crashes category, but the number of fatal accidents involving speed has gone up by 165%, from 16% to 26.4%. And fatigue-related fatalities have gone up by 139%, from 13% to 18.1%.

But, people not paying attention is less dangerous than it used to be, and I'm sorry, but I just don't buy that at all. You'd have to try very hard indeed to convince me that all collisions are not a result of either a.) misjudging the situation or b.) not being aware of all the variables, and unless your car spontaneously breaks or a sheep falls on you, not being aware means you weren't paying attention. There may have been an innocent party in the equation (possibly), but someone was guilty of either one of those crimes.

But I digress.

Gee, haven't they been successful?

Short of drastically changing how they assess causative factors - and I'm not saying they haven't - the last four/five years have seen a fairly big re-arrangement in the reasons that people crash, and the only road safety advertising I can remember lately has been speeding, fatigue, inattention and a handful of petty rules like seatbelts.

Which says to me that out of three major issues, one has been successful and two have been, shall we say, counter-productive.

More people dying in speeding-related accidents, more people dying in fatigue-related accidents (question: How do they work this one out? I can only assume that it's only possible to collect statistics if the driver survived. Which means that the true figure would be much higher than this, or it's complete garbage because they tick that box if you ran into a tree without tyre marks on the road, and they can't see the spider that dropped out from behind the sunvisor).

Can't they just stop spending money on advertising and direct it somewhere useful, like education, and see if that makes a difference? And how about not putting speed cameras in places where people suddenly realise they're there and oh-shit-brake-and-take-eyes-off-road-to-glance-at-speedo which means that an entire line of traffic is changing speed (dangerous) while distracted from the road (dangerous) simultaneously. This is improvings safety how?

P.S.: When I say "petty rules" I mean things likely to have a major impact upon your change of crashing, not upon your chance of being projected through the windscreen and having your spine compressed beyond it's capacity to support life when you do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The post is too long to make an individual comments on, but the statistics allow the Police to man the phones at the station, while drawing a large rate of pay, while ignoring calls for help, and getting leads on potential murder threats so when they do occur, they have a lead to go with the murder. Never mind cars with no stop lights, head lights or agro driving. This is something experienced by myself over the last few months.

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