Most people outgrow any trust for statistics by their late teens. Statistics are pretty much useless and they should be harmless; alas, such is not the case. Oh, they're fun to throw around in sports arguments, but for the most part, they are at best misleading. In fact, when you read a statistic, it's like reading the Dubious Achievement Awards, where you take a quick glance at the headline, read the body of the text, then go back to the headline for the kicker punchline.
When you read a statistic, you can't help but glance down to the fine print to see who is providing this "information," and then judge its proximity to the truth accordingly. I have no doubt that the Tobacco Institute could show statistically that all of those smokers who die from lung cancer are just coincidences. One of those 98 percent anomaly things.
This all came to mind when I read that the whore majority of the Arizona Senate Transportation Committee again killed a bill that would attempt to curtail cell-phone use by drivers. It was the third straight time that the bill was bottled up in committee, and what makes it even more pathetic is that this particular bill was a severely watered-down version of the previous two. The current bill would only have required the use of a hands-free device, ignoring the dangers inherent in their use, especially while dialing.
The majority of the committee, which was successful in keeping us from finding out what the majority of the entire Senate thinks about this issue, was apparently swayed (wink, wink) by telecommunications lobbyist Manny Lerma and his comically absurd statistics.
According to Lerma, a study in Florida claims that less than 1 percent of all traffic collisions involve driver inattention. What causes the rest, space aliens?
Let's think about that ridiculous claim. If we are to believe Lerma (and why in the world would anybody do that?), it would mean that in 99 percent of all collisions, the driver at fault was paying full attention as he/she ran a red light, made an unsafe lane change, drifted into oncoming traffic or committed any one of a dozen other blunders before plowing into someone. Gee, somehow that doesn't seem likely.
You don't think that it would have anything to do with the fact that drivers who are involved in collisions would probably be somewhat unwilling to admit that they had been distracted right before the crash? High-profile car crashes involving actress Rebecca Gayheart and model Niki Taylor have cast cell-phone use by drivers in a particularly bad light, and anyone who has so much as driven from home to the grocery store in the past year knows what a menace cell-phone talkers are behind the wheel.
Of course, to be fair, this "study" was done in Florida, so we have to look at factors peculiar to the setting. You have to figure that a certain percentage of crashes in Florida involve retirees who croak behind the wheel on their way to or from Home Town Buffet. Then there are the Haitians driving on the wrong side of the road, the Colombians sampling their own product on the way north on I-95, and the Cubans who are just pissed that Fidel Castro will apparently outlive everybody in the United States.
Throw in the rednecks who can't read, the crooked cops, and all of the other miscreants who serve as inspirations for characters in Carl Hiaasen's Florida-based books and it might just be that only 25 percent of all crashes involve cell-phone talkers. But that's .25, NOT .0025, as Lerma claims.
(Does it surprise anyone that liar, lobbyist, lunch-buyer, laggard, lout, and leech all start with the same letter? However, statistically speaking, it's only a coincidence that Lerma does, also.)
One of the main problems is the almost universally false perception that people have of themselves as drivers. Just try to find even one person who will qualify him/herself as being a below average driver. For that matter, try to find one who will even admit to being average. It's been my experience that virtually every driver in America would classify himself as above average or excellent. People are more likely to lie about their fitness as a driver than they are about their bank account, sexual prowess, and their oral hygiene put together!
By definition, half of all drivers must be at or below average. That means that we have 100 million Americans lying about something that could mean life or death to them and/or others. It's unclear whether people are just lying to themselves and to others, or whether they actually (incorrectly) believe that they're good drivers.
I know a guy who got four tickets in one year and he attributed all of them to "bad luck." I'm sorry, but a person who often exceeds the speed limit is far more likely to get a ticket than someone who speeds rarely or not at all. And a person who often speeds is a bad driver. There is no such thing as a good driver who breaks the law all the time.
Personally, I hope all four of those senators who voted to bottle up the bill get crashed into by somebody who is talking on the phone. I don't want anybody to get hurt; I just want them to see what everybody out here in the real world sees.
I've never seen this Lerma guy, but I'll bet he has to wear an oversized suit like David Byrne of Talking Heads had on in "Stop Making Sense." Otherwise, how could he possibly fit four Senators into his pocket?
Of course, he wouldn't need room for brains.