Saturday, January 5, 2008

~ the emperor’s new road toll

Many years ago, somebody told me that the road toll over the Christmas/New Year period is really not much worse than for any other two week period of the year.

It was an annoying scrap of information that has stuck with me, and bugged me, because I’ve never been sure if it’s true or not. Then, with all the Christmas road warnings, the breathless reporting of the first Christmas fatality, the grieving families, the stern editorials … I begin to forget...

But today, I was thinking about it. I read that Victoria’s C/NY road toll was a ‘sickening’ 17, two more than last year’. [Elsewhere I read that last year’s toll was 16. This may be due to a discrepancy in reporting procedures between state and national.]

Anyway, I decided to do the maths.

Let’s say 16 people died in the C/NY period of 2006/7, a period of 14 days. The year before it was 12.

The average for ANY two weeks of 2006 was 12.88 [and would be similar for any of the last few years]. So, in the last two periods it has been 3 and 2 deaths above average. In 2005/6 it was 1 below.

Put another way – the daily average of road fatalities is 0.92. During the 2006/7 holiday period it was 1.1. 2005/6 = 0.86 2007/8 = 1.21

I am no statistician, but you could hardly call this a horrifying spike.

Yet still we hear of ‘the road carnage that usually takes place over the Christmas holiday’, ‘the festive-season toll count’, the ‘appalling statistics’. That we have 'no new weapons to fight the Christmas road carnage’.

And, if there is more traffic on the road during this period, as one constantly hears, would this not bring the numbers even closer to average? [Personally, I think there’s less traffic, but that’s just my experience.]

Why do the authorities campaign so heavily and the media follow along so enthusiastically? Have they forgotten that it’s not too much different from any other period? Did they ever know?

Could there be a reason that is independent of the figures?

Perhaps it lies in the historical toll for the period?

Or with a media desperate for stories in a slow period? Accidents do form a large part of holiday news bulletins. There’s good copy in a suffering family on Christmas day …

Perhaps the powers that be believe it is a time for meditating on road safety so instead of press releases and sober awareness campaigns, they embark upon a massive nationwide hoax…

Whatever the reason, I’ll trust it is for the public good - but I’ll bet you the man in the streets believes the toll to be a lot higher than it in fact is. And an act of public deception by authorities is never a good thing. Especially if it is invoking of fear …

It still frustrates me. Any ideas?

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Ann O'Dyne said...

Dramatic reporting of road collisions is the MSM co-operating (with a self-serving agenda) with police in order to frighten reckless drivers out of being so.
This does not work because these hoons are not watching The News.
They are 'out there' hooning around.

Matt said...

You're absolutely right, it's not much of a spike.
I think it's mainly the slow-news nature of the period that means these stories get greater coverage. As you say, the family aspect around Xmas gives it a lot of emotional weight.

It'd be interesting to see how far back the reporting of the holiday-period road toll actually goes. Maybe at some point in the past it was a genuine spike, and no-one's realised it's improved now.

lily was here said...

Great minds think alike. I'll bet lots of people ponder that question but never actually chase up the data. Driving around Melbourne in the daytime is horrific, the traffic...who's running the offices? :)

Chris Boyd said...

The Victorian road toll, at its peak, made it into four digits. (Does anyone else remember "Declare War on 1034"?) (Who writes these slogans?!)

The state's population has grown by more than a million, there are heaps more cars per capita, and still the death toll is down by 70-odd per cent.

Maybe the xmas thing is an attempt to smash complacency. Or maybe it's a slow news period. Meh.

Remember when the Herald Sun ran the heroin toll side-by-side with the road toll?