Junk statistics and junk reporting

The Governor’s Highway Safety Association issued a report titled Bicycle Safety. The report is full of junk statistics, and the Los Angeles Times reported on the report with junk reporting. SABA and other advocacy organizations reposted on Facebook. It would take many posts or many paragraphs to respond to this junk, but here are a few points.

  1. Reporting bicyclist fatality COUNTS for different states is pointless and irresponsible. Yes, California has more fatalities. It also has more people. This is like comparing some statistic from Lichtenstein with the same from China. Nonsense! If a number is reported at all, it should at least be a number per 100,000 population. But the report author know that would be much less sensational, so doesn’t. Junk statistics.
  2. The report states “Adequate exposure data are not available to accurately monitor changes in bicycle travel…” and then goes on to draw all sorts of conclusions. The right way to report any crash statistic is as a rate, such as how many people were killed per mile traveled on bicycle (and in different settings that would distinguish recreational riding from commuting and errands). Unfortunately Caltrans and other states transportation agencies steadfastly refuse to gather bicycle use data, and the Governor’s Highway Safety Association should know this as well as anyone. Junk statistics.
  3. The report states “Lack of helmet use is a major contributing factor in fatalities.” But it provides absolutely no data to support this claim. Is there anything here to support the idea that these people would not have died if they were wearing a helmet? No. The other “research” cited is full of holes and assumptions leading to foregone conclusions. The report states that helmet requirements in Canada and Australia are examples of success, increasing helmet use and decreasing fatalities. In fact, there is plenty of initial data to indicate that these laws decreased use and increased the fatality rate per 100,000 people. Fewer people biking means a higher risk per person. Junk statistics, again.
  4. The LA Times articles opens with a photo of a crash test dummy flying through the air. Worthy of Fox News, for sure, but the LA Times? Blood leads. Junk reporting.
  5. The report and the Times article lists several solutions that have to do with separated facilities. But it makes the common leap of faith, prevalent among some in the advocacy community, that a preference among many bicyclists for separated facilities (which is certainly true) would lead to a decrease in fatalities. Do we know that? No. There has been some research to indicate that is true, but the same research has also been widely criticized. The truth is that we don’t know yet. I’m not suggesting that we not discuss the benefits of separated facilities, but to a priori claim that separated facilities are the solution to bicyclist fatalities is nonsense.

Junk statistics. Junk reporting. Junk. Junk. Junk. Don’t get sucked into this nonsense.

Yes, we should actively and intelligently seek answers to both the causes and solutions to bicyclist fatalities. Unfortunately, neither this report nor the LA Times article adds anything of value.

2 thoughts on “Junk statistics and junk reporting

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