The Accidental Journalist (an occasional series chronicling how predictable, preventable crashes are turned into accidents)

There’s an underlying tone of the passive voice (not to mention repeated use of the word “accident”) running through this Daily Beast dispatch Note the opening: “With summer driving season here, so is the deadliest part of the year on the road. The Daily Beast crunches the numbers to determine the 100 interstates most likely to generate a fatal wreck.”

You see, it’s the interstates that generate the crashes, not the actions of drivers. It’s also questionable whether it makes sense to focus on interstate highways, which per mile driven rank among the safest of roads traveled. A further problem is the lack of any exposure data — “fatal accidents” per mile is a rather meaningless statistic when we don’t know how many people drove those miles.

A bit further down: “Summertime, when America traditionally takes to the road, carries with it a more somber tradition—’the 100 deadliest days’ of the year for drivers.” It’s makes it sound as if there were something about the days themselves that were somehow dangerous, rather than the actions — e.g., the increased alcohol intake over the Fourth of July — that actually lie behind these fatalities.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 8th, 2010 at 1:31 pm and is filed under Traffic safety. 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.

6 Responses to “The Accidental Journalist (an occasional series chronicling how predictable, preventable crashes are turned into accidents)”

  1. fred_dot_u Says:

    Thanks to your book and this blog, I’ve taken note of similar phrasing in the local papers and elsewhere. Dangerous roads, dangerous bike lanes, and as you’ve noted, dangerous days. It’s an amazing thing that human-kind has survived this long with all the dangerous inanimate objects around us!

    As a commuting cyclist, I’ve been told by people how dangerous the roads are. I’ve been told by one client that he’d seen me riding in the rain with dangerous trucks right behind me.

    A couple years ago, In Florida, a major series of crashes were the result of drivers entering an area of low to zero visibility on the interstate. It was blamed on weather, an out-of-control controlled burn, but the Highway Patrol handed out citations after an investigation. Oh, boy, were there some angry drivers and media discussions about that.

    Drivers, don’t take responsibility, blame it on the roads, the smoke, the weather, sheesh.

  2. Jim PE Says:

    Mr. Vanderbilt, did you say anything to the Daily Beast? I think you have enough visibility that they might listen to you.

  3. Sean P. Says:

    The Seattle Times recently published an article about the most dangerous places in the city for bicyclists. The article also included a link to a map of bicycle crashes. Not surprisingly, there was little correlation between the the “most dangerous spots” (usually avoided by cyclists for that reason) and the places with the most bicycle crashes (mostly places with relatively high amounts of both auto and bicycle traffic).

  4. plr Says:

    While I agree with this point when it comes to individual crashes (and this is a very common issue in reporting), I think you’re overreaching here. It makes sense to look at why there are more crashes on some roads or days than on others.

  5. Rich Wilson Says:

    I noticed that the AP referred to the death of Nelson Mandela’s great-grand daughter, hit by a drunk driver as an accident. A quick search now shows most headlines using ‘crash’, with the notable exception of NPR

  6. Kate Says:

    From today’s Boston Globe, ‘“These are not accidents; these are crashes,’’ Sampson said. “They could have been avoided.’’’

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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.

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