CONTACTTRAFFICABOUT TOM VANDERBILTOTHER WRITING CONTACT ABOUT THE BOOK

On Drunk Driving Deaths

Clyde Haberman raises a good point in today’s New York Times: Why does Plaxico Burress potentially face years for illegally possessing a dangerous weapon (even if chances are slim he’d do that time), while Staten Island Congressman Vito Fossella got just a few days for illegally driving a dangerous weapon?

He writes: “But cars kill, too, especially when a drunk is at the wheel. About 13,000 Americans are killed every year by what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calls “alcohol-impaired drivers.”

The second sentence raises a point that may seem semantic but is, I think, important. The majority of people who die in alcohol-related crashes in the U.S. do so in what are known as single-vehicle crashes. So it seems imprecise to say they are “killed by” an impaired driver, when they are in fact the driver. A number of these fatalities will, of course, be passengers; strictly speaking, they are victims (although often complicit) of a drunk driver. But even so we can hardly conclude that 13,000 people a year are killed by drunk drivers, unless we imagine the impaired driver as a kind of separate self. But this phrase crops up all the time in the news.

My problem with this usage, apart from its strict factual and semantic inaccuracy, is that it subtly shifts the risks that impaired driving brings away from the individual, and onto some unknown “other” driver, which may in its own way contribute to the behavior. This is not to say that drunk drivers do not exact a huge and terrible toll on people in other vehicles (and outside of the vehicle). But, statistically speaking, the greatest risk drunk driving poses is to the actual driver himself (and any passengers). It may sound more dramatic to imply that there were 13,000 sober people in traffic who were killed by drunk drivers, but it doesn’t really help get us any closer to the root of the problem — the driver with the key in his hand, his own greatest risk.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 9th, 2008 at 8:59 am and is filed under Risk, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “On Drunk Driving Deaths”

  1. Jesse Says:

    “But, statistically speaking, the greatest risk drunk driving poses is to the actual driver himself” and the greatest risk gun ownership poses is to the gun owner. The leading cause of firearm deaths is suicide.

    The big difference is probably that you can’t get to work using a shotgun, or drive someone to hospital with a Glock.

  2. Lou Says:

    Thank you for a level headed perspective. This subject is usually surruonded by a frenzy of emotion, not necessarily logic. Basic civil liberties are being slowly stripped away, in response to huge ad campaigns driven by a gut wrenching story. I’m getting tired of the small interest changing the civil liberties for all. As the laws have gotten tougher, many statistics are still rending up – clearly we need more laws and media spin (not).

  3. Jeff Says:

    Dunk driving needs to stop. Alcohol related crashes are the leading cause of
    death between the ages 16-24 years. 5,555 younger than 15yrs die.

Leave a Reply

Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Slate.com Transport column to me at: info@howwedrive.com.

For publicity inquiries, please contact Kate Runde at Vintage: krunde@randomhouse.com.

For editorial inquiries, please contact Zoe Pagnamenta at The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency: zoe@zpagency.com.

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Drive-on-the-left types can order the book from Amazon.co.uk.

For UK publicity enquiries please contact Rosie Glaisher at Penguin.

Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
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September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
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Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
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April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
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Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum
Toronto

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
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Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013
BoingBoing.com “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Communications.
Grand Rapids MI

 

 

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