“Changing the Subject” and false comparisons to deliver your message

Verge reports the Trump administration will drop a mandate to require all automobiles to contain automated vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems.

The reporter writes

Under the Obama administration, then-Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said V2V technology would greatly enhance autonomous driving technology to, “provide 360-degree situational awareness on the road,” and improve vehicle safety. [Emphasis added as the quote is about vehicle safety]

and then follows that with:

The Trump administration’s decision comes at a time when traffic fatalities in recent years have jumped to levels not seen since the 1960s.

Source: US set to drop proposed vehicle-to-vehicle communications mandate – The Verge

How do you interpret the above statement? Perhaps that vehicle safety is falling and traffic fatalities are increasing rapidly?

The reporter did a twist from vehicle safety to a numerical count of traffic fatalities presumably thinking they are the same measure. They are not.

Context Matters

Here is a chart of annual traffic fatalities since 1900. If you squint you can see that current traffic fatalities are just about equal to 1960. Thus, the reporter’s statement is true. But note that rates have only been below 1960 levels during the past half dozen years and may have bubbled upwards as part of normal annual variation.

But the reporter leaves out two crucial details

  1. The population of the U.S. has grown dramatically since 1960.
  2. The number of miles driven each year by each driver increases by about 1-2% per year.

When the fatality rate is converted to deaths per miles traveled – the only meaningful way to compare 57 years of data – we get a measure of vehicle safety. (There are other measures too.)

We now see that vehicle safety has reached an all time historical low – and is about ten times better than in 1960!

We do not know if the reporter is deliberately propagandizing this story.  The reporter has confused vehicle safety with a numerical count of traffic fatalities. This may just be really, really bad reporting. Or perhaps the reporter is using a false comparison to make his own point, whatever that is.

This technique of a false comparison is common in propaganda – and arguments – and we easily fall for it because its a magician’s sleight of hand that we do not notice.

I filed this post under Propaganda Methods and Stupidity.

Since the above charts came from Wikipedia, I tried to find better data sources but could only find government data back to 1975.

https://www.nhtsa.gov/press-releases/usdot-releases-2016-fatal-traffic-crash-data

http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/general-statistics/topicoverview

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s