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Monopoly Manipulation
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Making stats fit the agenda

by Jerry Collins © British Columbia Report, August 19, 1996, p. 10 

Statistics the world over are routinely "cooked" by governments anxious to promote particular views or to protect favoured special interests. The British magazine, The Economist, prints an annual survey ranking the believability of stats from various countries and generally the more democratic the government, the more believable are their statistics. North Korea and China seldom fare well.

To many traffic-safety critics, North American governments can be counted on to cook speeding stats on a par with communist countries dealing with rates of inflation or production figures. In North America, the point is to make speeding on paper a bigger factor in accidents than it perhaps is in reality.

In B.C., the anti-photo-radar group SENSE (Safety by Education, Not Speed Enforcement) disputed ICBC's and the Ministry of Transportation's contention that 40% of serious accidents were "caused" by speeding. When challenged, ICBC and the government backed down and subsequently claimed that speeding "contributes" to 40% of these accidents. (At the same time, the ministry lists speed as a contributing factor in 11.6% of all varieties of collisions-- from fender-benders to fatalities -- during 1994.)

For more than a year, SENSE has tried to secure the raw accident statistics from the ministry and ICBC that would confirm the government's claims that "speed is killing us." So far, it has not succeeded.

Further, it wants to know why speed as a factor is pulled from a list of accident causes and highlighted in the ICBC-ministry Speed is Killing Us campaign. Other factors not highlighted are failure to yield, unsafe passing and the presence of drugs and alcohol.

Coincidentally, the cover story of September's Car and Driver magazine asks the same questions of the U.S. government. It points out that if one driver passes out after a drinking binge and slams into an oncoming car that was going five miles an hour over the limit, it's counted as a speed-related crash.

After digging into federal stats, Car and Driver found that only 3.3% of all fatal crashes had "to fast" as the only related factor. "This agrees with common sense," journalist Patrick Bedard writes. "Driving fast, by itself, is no reason to crash. The overwhelming majority of speed-related crashes, 89% of them, are also related to something else. If [the government] had a different agenda, these could just as easily be attributed to another factor."

Car and Driver asks, "If speed kills, why isn't it killing on Germany's autobahn?" About 30% of the autobahn system has no speed limits and cars on these sections routinely travel at over 120 mph. And yet, fatalities on U.S. interstates and German autobahns are dead even.

U.S. safety advocates are quick to pooh-pooh the notion that speed may not be so decisive a factor. "Germany and Germans are different," says Mr. Bedard, mimicking the government's safety bureaucrats. "They have tough licensing requirements; they obediently buckle up; their slower traffic invariably moves out of the way of faster cars."

An therein lies something closer to the truth, he says. "Sounds like Germans have already found the key to safe, high-speed transportation, while our [government] is cooking up body counts to prove it can't be done."

 Rev: 1999.01.19 contact SENSEtext map of SENSE web siteback to SENSE home pageback to top of this page