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-   -   Have You Been Misled By A Common Statistical Error? (https://www.speedtraphunter.net/nma-articles/255-have-you-been-misled-common-statistical-error.html)

NMA Reporter 2008-02-07 22:15

Have You Been Misled By A Common Statistical Error?
 
<b>NMA Article: Have You Been Misled By A Common Statistical Error?</b><br/><br/><p><img style="border-top-width: 0px; border-left-width: 0px; border-bottom-width: 0px; margin: 0px 10px 0px 0px; border-right-width: 0px" height="154" alt="newspaper" src="http://www.motorists.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/HaveYouBeenMisledByACommonStatisticalErr_AE31/newspaper.jpg" width="112" align="left" border="0" /> When studying the causes of fatal accidents, the fatal accident rate (the number of fatal accidents on a per-vehicle-mile-driven basis) is the best available measure of highway safety. It is not subject to fluctuations caused by the chance number of people involved in any given traffic accident. </p>
<p>Unfortunately, the measure most commonly reported is the fatality rate, which is the number of people killed in automobile accidents on a per-vehicle-mile-driven basis.</p>
<p><strong>A quick example: </strong></p>
<ol>
<li>Two rural counties experience an average of one fatal accident per year </li>
<li>Each county has one accident in which a deer crossed a road, causing the driver to swerve and hit a tree. </li>
<li>In County A, a lone motorcyclist was killed. </li>
<li>In County B, seven passengers on a bus were killed. </li>
</ol>
<p><strong>Assuming all drivers in both counties logged the same number of miles during the year:</strong></p>
<p>The fatality rate would be seven times higher in County B, but the fatal accident rate would be identical. </p>
<p>If someone compared the two counties using the fatality rate, they could come to the conclusion that motorists are seven times more likely to die in a car-deer accident in County B. In reality, the odds of being in a fatal accident would be identical, because in each county there was one fatal accident with one common cause. </p>
<p>Because fatality rate statistics are more easily sensationalized, they are often the statistic quoted by the press. </p>
<p>From the perspective of the media, choosing between the fatality rate and the fatal accident rate can be the difference between a front-page story and something not worth printing.</p>
<p><strong>Headline using fatal accident rate:</strong> "<em>Motorists equally likely to be involved in fatal accident involving a deer in County A and B"</em></p>
<p><strong>Headline using fatality rate:</strong> "<em>Motorists in County B are seven times more likely to be killed by hitting a deer with their car"</em></p>
<p>The first headline would immediately be dismissed as not newsworthy. </p>
<p>The second headline would likely cause citizens in County B to be alarmed and demand new "safety" laws, lower speed limits, and more warning signs protecting them from deer on the roads. Politicians would then rush in to fix a problem that never existed.</p>
<p>You can hold the media in your area to a higher standard. If you see a news article quoting the fatality rate, write a letter or email to the paper and explain how misleading that statistic can be.</p>
<p>Image Credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonofpob/">jonofpob</a></p>
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