Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Spinning Road Deaths

Page 16 of The Times today carries a story headline BRITAIN LAGGING BEHIND EUROPE IN CUTTING DEATHS ON THE ROAD. Reading the first half of the story you would think Britainm had the worst record in Europe for the number of deaths on the road. Strange, I thought, I'm sure that's not right. If I remember correctly we have one of the best records. But according to The Times we've only cut road deaths by 7% in the last 5 years compared to France's 35%.

But the truth emerges later on. Britain has 5.6 road deaths per 100,000 while France is 80% higher at 9.2.

So that's clear then. Honestly, lies, damned lies and statistics, eh?


Praguetory said...

In recent years we have lagged behind in cutting road deaths compared to our European partners.

We used to be famous for road safety, now we (Roads Minister Ladyman) are vetoing European road safety measures (such as using speed limiters and cutting the amount of alcohol allowed in the bloodstream from 2 pint's to 1 pint's worth).

MorrisOx said...

Have't read the story yet, but having regular experience of French RN and autoroutes, I can say with confidence that the idea that British roads are less safe is utter tosh.

What I will say is that it is now reaching the stage where the French are policing their roads more effectively, using cops on bikes rather than cameras on poles.

Anonymous said...

the Guardian does this all the time.

Read the same story in the Standard and the Guardian and they are fundamentally different.


Standard: "Women aged 20-25 now paid more than men"
Guardian "Women still face massive pay gap" (true, when you consider all women, but perhaps that's because many spend years at home having babies)

Standard: "Olympics faces £1 billion VAT bill"
Guardian: "Olympics faces £250 million fax bill"

The Guardian figures appear to be based on a laughably low cost of £1.4b for the whole thing.


Machiavelli's Understudy said...

The headline isn't actually wrong, though, is it?

I mean, strictly speaking, if our per centage of cutting road deaths is lower than France's, what is wrong with the headline?

I think the article appears to be critical of the acceleration at which we are reducing these deaths.

Johnny Norfolk said...

I think stats are used more and more just to prove someones point.

When you dig deeper you find the truth.

Never take stats. at face value. Look behand them.

Noel Slevin said...

We may be lagging behind in cutting road deaths, but perhaps that's because we've cut them in the past! We have one of the lowest road deaths records in Europe - though I'm not sure how the injuries records look, that might be more interesting.

Koolio said...

Shock! The Times spins an article.

It's diminishing returns. France has had big problems with speeding, drink driving and a giant network of small roads where if you have an accident, you risk collision with a tree.

So it's been easier to cut back deaths by enforcing drink-driving rules and installing speed cameras in France and cutting trees. Easy. Reassuringly they have traffic police there too, but those speed cameras flash if you're just 1km/h over the speed limit.

Still, for me the standard of driving is higher in France, you get some shocking bad examples but on average, you just don't find the muppets that are everywhere in the UK, those drivers who won't use their mirrors, indicate early nor quit the middle lane.

towcestarian said...

Given the piss-poor state of mathematics education, it is probably only ex-Grammar School types that have any grasp of basic statistics. So, it is difficult to know if the resulting crap journalism written by compresensive educated hacks is the result of crass ignorance or deliberate spin.

In this particular case, because the actual number of deaths/accidents on British roads is relatively low, any variation in the accident rate has a potentially lower statistical significance, and measures to reduce the number are less likely to have any measurable impact. At some stage you have to accept the fact that there is a certain background level of accidents that will happen whatever safety measures are taken; and that new safety measures will have little observable statistical effect. The corollary is that it is easy for countries with appalling driving habits (Frace, Portugal etc) to make big one-off improvements. Check in 5 years to see if their rate of accident reduction has flattened off to the UK reduction rate. My money is on the French having a higher accident rate than us when both our reduction rates are comparable.

Praguetory: do you include opposition to the totally insane EU proposal for mandatory day running lights in your list of government crimes? Also, physical speed limiters would probably cause more accidents than they would prevent. If this sort of Big Brother driver supervision is what you dream about, wait for mandatory GPS tracking of car speeds - much safer, and revenue earning, and on a motorway near you before 2010.

Praguetory said...

Having lived in countries with and without lights on rules I am fairly neutral from a road safety perspective. I would be against on balance as it would be another means of taxing the driver (penalties).

The government's own research indicates that speed limiters would reduce road deaths by 20% - so they decided to commission another report meanwhile opposing this EU measure to the consternation of our partners from high-death rate countries (such as Czech)

By the way Ladyman was arguing for daytime lights (because our EU partners say so) proving that he is always on the wrong side of the argument. I won't link but if you google me and ladyman you'll find out that this is a particular bugbear of mine.

morrocanroll said...

The Times' transport correspondent is Ben Webster, ex- of the Pedestrians Association and much-loved lacky of the Department of Transport. He can be seen taking liberties on his bicycle on his way to the DfT for an exclsuive briefing - which then appears on the front page. Who can forget that recent Times cover 'suburban road in north london to get average speed cameras'. Genius. The ultimate in metropolitan-centric 'journalism'.
I have a Fleet St friend who tells me that Ben quite happily admits that he has an agenda - he is first and foremost an anti-car cyclist who has also admitted to being in the vicinity of 'Reclaim The Street' protests...

David Boothroyd said...

Interesting story in Private Eye this week - apparently the Isles of Scilly Council has been criticised for doing nothing to lower the rate of road deaths.

No-one has ever been killed in a road accident on the Isles of Scilly, so quite how they are supposed to reduce the figure from 0 is a bit difficult to see.

Praguetory said...

The Times is full of bankers these days.

Def Con One said...

Very harsh on Ben Webster to say he is a lackey of the DfT. Not sure the DfT would agree as he is a thorn in their side over so many issues. For this very reason, unlike his namesake on the same paper, he is not generally the recipient of favoured government briefing. Like most good journalists he gets his stories by cultivating sources within departments who have an axe to grind and actually does his homework. He does tend to have an anti-car agenda but mixing campaigning on issues by writing up a news story in a particular way is part and parcel of the way the media has always operated i.e the Independent on Iraq, the Guardian on climate change, the Sun on prison sentences or the Mail on just about everything - they all do it. Ben's piece is just a bit more blatent.

towcestarian said...


I would be dead 3 times over by now if I had a speed limiter (set at 70 mph) on my car - and I am a boring old fart who by and large sticks to the speed limit.

My worst ever driving experience (almost) was when the rev limiter kicked in at around 50 mph on a hyper-busy motorway slip road. After 5 seconds of panic-stricken gear changes I managed to regain "control" without causing a major accident (except in the underwear department). There is no way that this sort of electro-mechanical contraption is a safety improvement on a car.

Considered another way, the safest roads in the UK are motorways, which is the only place a speed limiter would work (unless the EU is considering the added lunacy of a GPS enabled "smart" device). Maybe this is a problem in other parts of Europe, but certainly not in the UK. Ladyman was perfectly right to oppose its introduction.

Day running lights are another lunatic idea for the UK (OK for Sweden and Finland where it is never light during the day anyway). Apart from the ridiculous waste of petrol (they whinge about us leaving the TV on standby, then tel us to drive with our lights on in bright sunshine - tossers), in the UK day running lights are used by motorbikes, who really do need the added visibility. If everyone had lights blazing hairy-biker deaths would increase significantly.

Its about time the EU stopped trying to make every country conform to the same set of stupid laws. Lets have less EU interference in the UK not more.

Voyager said...

Thee is a little campaign going on at present to EU Harmonise the Driving Test.

Germans must take a set number of lessons with a driving school before they are allowed to take a test. You cannot get a licence before the age of 18.

Such ideas are floated here through insurance companies or lobby groups - but they are essentially EU harmonisation proposals - hence the hyping of road accidents