It doesn’t matter if you’re a water buffalo, canary, house pet or person, chances are favorable that you are aware of the use of statistics in our lives. Whether you’re being born, voting, living, or dying you are personally involved with statistics. I was forced to take (and pass) a Statistics class prior to receiving my college diploma, even though I claimed to be a conscientious objector.
If you’re wondering what I could have possibly been conscientiously objecting to, it was the whole concept of statistical methods. You see, I’ve watched these little bits of information be used in ways that just are not right. With the correct wording, sentence structure and a little well placed inflection, the results of a study or survey can be, and usually are, manipulated to portray whatever you want them to.
I’m going to use drunken driving statistics to show how this is accomplished. Before everyone starts trying to lynch me let me state that I do not advocate drunk driving in any way, shape or form. I’ve done it hundreds of times and I have finally concluded it’s stupid. Without adequate research and personal knowledge, however, I would not be able to say with any authority how stupid it is. (Disclaimer: The author no longer drives drunk.)
In 1980 an organization called Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was created. Since then, MADD has grown from a small grass roots effort to a national phenomenon and they’ve done it by presenting data about drinking and driving in a manner that renders the population without a means of contesting their claims.
For instance, http://www.madd.org/ quotes information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that says in 2005, 39 percent of all traffic fatalities were killed in alcohol-related crashes. That’s 16,895 out of 43,443 people killed in accidents that involved alcohol. That is comparable to one person every half-hour.
This is true. What they don’t tell you though is what I have a problem with.
The term "alcohol-related" doesn’t say the fatality was caused by the presence of alcohol. If a drunk guy is walking down the street and a sober driver runs over him while swerving to miss a herd of penguins, that’s considered an alcohol-related fatality. If a drunk driver in a car gets hit by a sober guy on a bicycle, that’s reported as an alcohol-related fatality. An NHTSA Highway & Vehicle/Safety Report estimated 12 percent of alcohol-related traffic fatalities involve an intoxicated bicyclist or pedestrian and not a drunk behind the wheel of a car.
The NHTSA has also declared “a motor vehicle crash is considered to be alcohol-related if at least one driver or non-occupant (such as a pedestrian or pedal cyclist) involved in the crash is determined to have had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .01 gram per deciliter (g/dL) or higher.” A BAC of .01 is a long way from the .08 that is considered legally intoxicated in the United States.
So when MADD cites statistics saying 39 percent of traffic fatalities, or 16,885 people, were killed in alcohol-related crashes, we now know that 2,024 of those deaths weren’t the result of someone drinking and driving an automobile. Out of the remaining 14,859 fatalities, it’s estimated that 15 percent or 2,228 fatalities involved someone with a BAC less than .08 which is not even legally intoxicated. That leaves us with 12,631 out of 43,443 traffic fatalities actually caused by drunken drivers. That comes out to 29 percent and not the 39 percent being cited by MADD.
If we then consider that 29 percent of all traffic fatalities in this country are caused by drunk drivers, wouldn’t that indicate, statistically speaking of course, that 71 percent of all traffic fatalities are caused by sober people? Who is causing more deaths on our nation’s roads, drunks or sober folks? Who should MADD really be mad at?
Another statistic I came across while researching for this article has left me scratching my head and asking, “Huh?”
According to a study released by Loyola University Health Systems, safety belts were found wrapped around 12.8 percent of fatally injured intoxicated drivers, while a whopping 33 percent of sober drivers killed in crashes were buckled in. These statistics tell me that 87.2 percent of drunks not wearing seat belts walked away from accidents while only 67 percent of sober people not buckled up were able to walk away.
And that’s why I despise the word statistics. Statistics tell me that sober folks cause more fatal accidents than drunks. So why aren’t the people not drinking and driving breaking the law, being arrested and sent to jail, followed by a treatment program that teaches them the basics of drinking and driving?
Why would there be such a huge push for people to buckle up when clearly the numbers tell us that more people die while wearing their seat belts and not drinking?
Based on this information, I suggest everyone get naked, open a beer and go for a ride without any protection…. from seatbelts I mean.