Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Homicides kill three times as many kids as drunk drivers

I've got a pet peeve against hyperbolic overstatements by tough-on-crime mavens who think, because the targets of their false statements are unpopular, no one will call them on putting out bad information. So I took umbrage in the comments to a post over at Sentencing Law & Policy when a commenter announced that, " drunk drivers kill enough people to fill a mid sized CITY 45,000-55,000 PEOPLE A YEAR." I replied that:
your numbers are way off - according to NHTSA, there were 11,773 alcohol related traffic fatalities in 2008 - 8,027 of those were the drunk drivers themselves. (And of course, NHTSA reminds us that "The term 'alcohol-impaired' does not indicate that a crash or a fatality was caused by alcohol impairment.") The total number of US auto accident deaths of all types in 2008 was 37,261. You might be remembering some "all accidents" stat from decades ago, but the data you put forth aren't remotely accurate, even if putting them in all caps MAKES THEM SEEM REALLY ALARMING.
To me, the 8,027 are Darwin Award winners. They took a risk and paid with their lives. The other 3,746 represent how many people were killed by drunk drivers nationwide. It's still a significant number, but not the biggest problem society faces: By comparison, for example, largely preventable hospital infections account for 99,000 deaths each year nationwide.

Predictably playing the "what about the children?" card, the original commenter responded:
11,773 individuals any guess what percentage of thoat were children? that is still 1000% if not more children killed by drunks than sex offenders. Therefore if the excuse that sex offenders are so so SO dangerous we need to track eveyr move they make 24/7 THE REST OF THEIR LIVES....where are the same 1 strike your OUT laws for DUI! Where are the registry's for drunks also the residence and working restrictions? of course theirs should be reversed They should be required to live no FARTEHR than 1,000 from a bar or liquor store so they have no reaosn to get into a car and kill people!
I replied that:

On the number of children, from the same NHTSA report I linked to earlier, "In 2008, a total of 1,347 children age 14 and younger were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes. Of those 1,347 fatalities, 216 (16%) occurred in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes." Another 34 kids were pedestrians hit by drunks.

I agree 250 kids nationwide is a significant number, but is it really "1000% more" than the number killed by sex offenders? That would mean sex offenders kill 25 kids or less per year. Maybe that's accurate, I don't know the data. I only pointed out that you're dramatically overstating the problem when you falsely bloviate that "drunk drivers kill enough people to fill a mid sized CITY 45,000-55,000 PEOPLE A YEAR."

One more bit of context: By comparison to the 250 kids killed in 2008 by drunk drivers, according to the CDC 756 children aged 1-14 were murdered in 2006, the last year for which they have records. (Go here for data.) Not all of those, of course, were sexual assaults, but I find zero support for your contention that drunk driving is killing 1000% more kids than predators assaulting them. Strictly by the numbers, the latter is a more common problem.

I'm not sure I'd have guessed before looking up the hard data that drunk drivers accounted for one-third the number of child deaths compared to homicide. Congenital anomalies and cancer, by contrast, are the big kid killers, accounting for thousands of child deaths. Everybody's entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.


Pausanias said...

Thank you for discussing precise numbers. Here are some other numbers to put this into context:

"We estimate that foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year."

The people most at risk are not adults, but children and the elderly.

Anonymous said...


Buzz said...

Bees and wasps kill about 125 per year.

Anonymous said...

Blogs are the biggest cause of suicide.

TDCJ EX said...

Interesting responses by the troll . I have frequently out that mis use of statistics only to be met with either hastily by “tuff on crime wingnuts” or worse the fact that few people understand how statistics are gathered and can be manipulated or misused. The counting of any one who has alcohol in them as a alcohol related deal no matter who is driving is not only misleading it has created very bad policy the same is true for a lot “crime Stats “ I have asked to see the raw data this is where you will find the best info and how it was gathered a good study wil give a clear easy to understand methodology .

This is blatantly misusing numbers for a political agenda.

I saw a study that labeled any use of illegal drugs as abuse / because they are illegal there for it is abuse talk about circular reasoning . A increasingly common way of thinking . That is not good for us as a society .

Some of us can see beyond the emotional rhetoric and manipulated numbers . Emotion never makes good legislation

Try thinking instead of taking at face value what ever you are told by some agenda driven group
The matter is very basic if you know what statistics are . It is how you use the raw data and the samples come from that matter . Counting something in a cat gory it should no be in misleads every one and serves only to create more problems .

That is true we can have our opions but we cannot make the facts fit isn't that What Pradva did ? Anyone else see the Irony ?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If that's true, 1:03, hurry off and be done with it: You're certainly contributing nothing here. Similarly, 12:26, if your bored, leave and don't return.

@ Pausanias and 12:23, in the scheme of things, 250 child deaths out of the entire country isn't very much compared to other common causes of death. By contrast, the same year 714 kids drowned. Arguably you might save more kids' lives by investing in youth swimming and water safety classes than massive arrest campaigns for drunk driving.

TDCJ Ex, I agree that's a weird aspect of the DWI death statistics that may (slightly) overstate things, but it's the best data there is, fwiw, and all anyone has to go on.

Robert Langham said...

No law should be written for 250 victims in a country of 310 million.

Anonymous said...

Robert. Really? Here's the real number to put all those other numbers in context. "Child Sexual Predators" kill 50 children a year.

If policy was based upon facts we would have a justice system that would be unrecognizable to the average citizen...and the average journalist would think they had died and gone to Mars.

SB said...

Parents killing their own children is where the big stats come in. Some are alcohol related but the majority are acts of violence. I have a research paper that I did concerning this but I would have to find it. Suicides are also far too high but they don't begin to compare to parents killing their own.

Soronel Haetir said...

So how many of the remaining 3k were in the same car as the 8k impaired drivers? I would likely be willing to discount most of those as well.

Interesting that the total number of fatalities related to auto use doesn't seem to be coming down all that much even as this particular component has plummeted. Of course there are way more people than there used to be. I haven't seen overall numbers of terms of miles driven.

sunray's wench said...

The common flu virus kills 36,000 Americans each year too.

I know it's not a nice thing, but fact is people die. People have always died. If you stop everyone alive now from dying, you would also have to enforce sterilisation for everyone too because like it or not we live in a finite space with finite resources.

And before anyone starts screaming, yes I have lost several friends and family to drunk driving accidents, murder, cancer and various other things. No one is immune, that's the point.

Anonymous said...

A while back there was a story about the cops up around Chicago that bought three new vans to just patrol the construction zones and give out outrageous fines for speeding?

Their reason was that on average 7500 construction were killed every year across the country, and that they wanted to save lives.

So I also looked into the 'facts' to see what was up. But I found what they DIDN’T tell you was that HALF of those deaths were from the construction people themselves!

Outside traffic accounted for the other half of the deaths.

So I guess my question is, since half of those deaths are caused by the workers themselves, did they buy three OSHA vans also to enforce the laws with outrageous fines for violations for the construction companies???

After all, their reason was wanting to stop the deaths…..it’s not just for revenue….right?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Soronel asks, "how many of the remaining 3k were in the same car as the 8k impaired drivers? I would likely be willing to discount most of those as well."

Another 16% of them, or 1875.

The total number of 2008 attributed DWI deaths among people who weren't in the drunk drivers car was 1,871, or 15.9% of the total. See Table 1 in the NHTSA report.

D.A. Confidential said...

I'm a little disappointed to see your glib remark about the deaths of thousands of people:
"To me, the 8,027 are Darwin Award winners. They took a risk and paid with their lives."
I'm pretty certain that you would support my own prosecutorial approach in felony (or misdemeanor) DWI cases, which would be to give the offender treatment as much as punishment in an attempt to cure whatever alcohol or drug addiction they have, and re-educate them to become safer drivers.
If you are serious in your comment, then I assume you'd have no objection to me seeking the maximum prison sentence in every case, on the grounds that they took a risk and deserve what they get.
I love that you keep a beady eye on those of us in the profession, and that over-reaching by the state is a huge concern for you. But in your drive to make us more humane, it seems unfair and inconsistent to discount a few thousand lives just because it improves your argument.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

DAC, I'm not "discounting" those 8,027 lives. But killing yourself is not harming the rest of society, that's just individuals taking a risk and paying for it. Equally worthy of mourning are skydivers who hit the ground without their parachutes opening. But I don't want to ban them jumping out of planes.

People in life sometimes engage in risky behavior, and where it can government sustains itself and profits from it. I appreciate that you're making the best of the job you've got and enforcing the laws in front of you with the tools available, but the issue addressed here is the constant overstating of the danger of DWI to society. How many anti-drunk driving ads (or prosecutors' closing arguments) invoke dead children, "putting kids at risk," etc., compared to their representation in the actual data? Drowning endangers kids more, but it's not nearly as sexy to demagogue about that and nobody's figured out how to criminalize taking kids swimming.

I'm sorry if you're disappointed in me. Just don't tell me that 45-55,000 people are killed by drunk drivers every year when the number is really a fraction of that.

Anonymous said...

The state governments themselves killed 52 people in 2009, but that's ok, it's a legal homicide, even though it may or may not be an innocent person.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Grits! It has been long known that by inflating the stats you get more attention and hopefully more donations and funding for your cause. If someone takes a substantial and unjustifiable risk and they are themselves killed, then so be it. Life is a matter of choices.

Anonymous said...

I applaud you for having the guts to write this blog about what most people don't want to hear;The cold hard truth!

The Assistant said...

This post is so full of willful distortions that it's difficult to even know where to begin...

First, the attempts to compare the number of drunk driving related deaths to hospital deaths are misleading. For one, while you spend quite a bit of time discounting all sorts of ways that the number of alcohol related deaths "don't count", you do none of that for the top line 99,000 infection deaths. How many of those are children? How many of those are already immuno-compromised? How many had significant health issues before hospitalization? Providing the breakdown of other causes of death isn't context, it's distraction.

Second, your ad hominim attack on DAC is as inaccurate as it is repulsive. You found some random crank that cited the inaccurate 45k figure, and attributed it to DAC in your last post. He didn't provide you with that number, you're the one that dug it up, so don't throw it in his face. Just as importantly, it has absolutely nothing to do with his reason for disappointment here.

"I'm not "discounting" those 8,027 lives. But killing yourself is not harming the rest of society, that's just individuals taking a risk and paying for it."

You say you're not discounting, and then immediately do... You also ignore the fact that this presents an inconsistency with your advocacy on this blog. Driving without a license is a risk that doesn't harm the rest of society (at least by your definition that driving while intoxicated apparently doesn't harm the rest of society). So why address the surcharge? After all, by driving without a license the driver took a risk and lost, why not make them pay for it with 6 months in jail? Because that would be just as idiotic as ignoring DWI. The problem is that the risk of DWI is one with large externalities, and you're willing to completely ignore them because there's also large costs on the originators of those risks.

Finally, it's not as though child deaths are the only reason to prosecute DWI. In fact, it's an awful small percentage of the problem when you consider the other costs involved- unless hospitalizations and property damage "don't count" either.

I guess the big problem that I have with this post is- so what? You got in a twist because someone used bad data. Shit happens, especially in random comment sections on random blogs on the internet. Are you suggesting that we stop prosecuting DWI because not enough people are being killed? Or, what, exactly? Rather than imply there's some big problem here, why don't you point it out and propose a way to address it? This post might be noteworthy if the false numbers were being cited by the DMN, or NHTSA, or even some dumb prosecutor... But, um, random person on a blog comment being incorrect? Not the end of the world.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Assistant, DAC's a big boy and can take care of himself. Also, those kind of overstatements of DWI deaths are quite common, as is demagoguery by press and prosecutors as to the relative risk DWI poses to society.

If you want to say it's "discounting" their deaths to believe that individuals are responsible for their own behavior, fine, I'll accept it. I don't think acts that might kill yourself would in an of themselves merit criminalization - the only societal purpose for banning the behavior is the risk to others, and that's what all the overheated rhetoric is about. Looked at in the context of other risks, the threat to the non-drinking and driving public from drunk drivers isn't really a "Oh my God the sky is falling stop everyone at a checkpoint" type of threat.

PirateFriedman said...

Great post.

D.A. Confidential said...

Actually, I pay The Assistant to speak for me, he's really quite good.

And to clarify: I've never used that inflated number, and I thoroughly approve of Grits putting correcting misrepresentations.

The Assistant is right that your comparisons are a little unfair, given the detailed analysis and discounting (and I maintain you are) of DWI deaths.

But let's not go in circles, here, because I want to note something this post (okay, the comments) made me think about.

The death penalty. Now, my views on the DP are a secret and shall remain so. But I do note with a certain irony your underlying point that there's a lot of fuss made by prosecutors about dead kids when there are "only" a couple hundred of them. I'd only remind you and your readers that there's a dashed-sight more fuss made about the death penalty by its opponents, and how many dead kids?

I guess I sometimes weary of the constant minimizing of victims, of the outrage directed at those who think that maybe 250 kids might be saved by tougher penalties or a longer sentence.

Heck, maybe it's just been a long day trying to find solutions as opposed to picking apart other people's. So go easy on me, else I'll unleash The Assistant.

Anonymous said...

"Heck, maybe it's just been a long day trying to find solutions as opposed to picking apart other people's."

And how nice, you did it on the taxpayer's dime.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

DAC speaks of "the outrage directed at those who think that maybe 250 kids might be saved by tougher penalties or a longer sentence."

I have no outrage over that view, I just think it's silly from any cost-benefit perspective and also a bit self serving coming from people whose paychecks derive from the task of tilting at this particular windmill.

As for "trying to find solutions as opposed to picking apart other people's," don't flatter yourself that your views are any more important than the defense attorneys across the aisle from you, more than a few of whom I suspect would agree that the overhyping of DWI risks has been a disservice. But hey, if you think it's worth throwing the Bill of Rights under the bus to protect 250 kids - while ignoring drowning which kills three times as many - you're clearly not alone. But that argument is much more persuasive when hyped, overstated numbers are used.

Also, I haven't ever noticed you at the Lege looking for "solutions" when the laws get written, does that mean your views about lawmaking are thus irrelevant because you don't work in that arena? All of us work in our own venues on subjects that overlap.

Finally, you and the Assistant are always welcome to come here and "unleash," btw. If what I write didn't piss off a few prosecutors I wouldn't be doing my job.

Anonymous said...

What really bother's me About Dwi laws is this,Why are so many Dwi offender's over fifty ending up in prison,when most were conditioned to drank and drive with no real Conseqeunces ,Then in the 80's All the laws changed drastically and good ol boys were all the sudden supposed to change thier behavior overnight.Gimmie a break!Of course, nobody really wants to solve this problem. The state makes way to much money.The federal goverment would have already installed alcohol detectors at the Car assembly plants.If anybody realy wanted to stop the problem.Why dont you Da's ever put that in your pipe and smoke It!

R. Shackleford said...

Well said, Grits. Naturally, you can't expect the folks who make a living enforcing over-the-top laws to agree with you on this, as evidenced by their quick disputations. I think you hit a nerve, well played.