Lies, damned lies, and motoring statistics in The Sun

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 2 May 2008

There are lies, damned lies, and articles about motoring and crime statistics, and The Sun had an absolute classic yesterday in that genre. Topically titled 'Grand Theft Auto', the paper ran a two-page spread about the way that the motorist had become 'public enemy number one' in the last ten years, being treated as a criminal and taxed to the hilt.

The Sun article on motor crime statistics

At the foot of the article in print was a great little box-out 'explainer':

The Real Dangers

IF drivers are targeted as public enemy No1, where does that leave this lot?

BENEFIT CHEATS: They cost us £800m last year, according to official estimates

ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS: No one - even the Government - know how many have slipped through the net

KNIFE CRIME: Stabbing deaths rose from 201 a year when Labour took power 11 years ago to 258 last year

GUN CRIME: Shooting deaths rose from 46 a year when Labour took power to 59 last year

HOODIES: There were 140 cases last year of people being kicked or battered to death compared with 89 in Labour's first year

PAEDOPHILES: Some have been let off with non-custodial sentences because of prison overcrowding
The Sun box-out 'explainer'

It seemed to me that there was one significant statistic omitted from that list of deaths.

Adding together victims of fatal stabbings, shootings and beatings, you reach a figure of 457 people who died unnecessarily in the UK last year because of a crime.

And the number of people killed in the UK in 2006 by motorists?

3,172

So maybe they are public enemy number 1 after all? I mean, you can't imagine being allowed to introduce a new product onto the market now that was guaranteed to kill over 3,000 people, and seriously injure another 28,000, every year, can you?

5 Comments

If they weren't so dangerous, the tabloids are such a source of hilarity.

Thank you for reading so that I don't have to.

Perhaps, but I suspect that the difference might be intent. Very few of those deaths would be caused intentionally. Recklessly, carelessly, perhaps, but intentionally?

59 deaths by shooting? Are you kidding me?! BBC reported 12,000 gun-related deaths in South Africa in '98. This apparently dropped to 6,000 in 2004. Number of fatalities in car accidents from April '07 - March '08: over 14,000. Huh. No wonder people are terrified to visit. But it brings things in to perspective, doesn't it? As for me, I think I'll be emigrating to your neck of the woods soon...

Propelling any object at speed will always be potentially dangerous to the people around (and in) it. Therefore by no means all of those road deaths were avoidable. Of course, you could also debate the avoidability of crime, since it's been around for as long as there have been laws to break.

However, having the freedom to move goods and people around at speed confers a social benefit, so we as society have to put up with some level of deaths (and injuries) to gain that benefit. Comparing with violent crime is pointless because crime, by definition, confers no corresponding social benefit.

Just my thoughts.

Cardiovascular disease kills 15 times more people than road related deaths. (If causes of death on wikipedia is to be believed) So do you think we should fine fat people and tax lard?

Perhaps we could institute some sort of fixed penalty system whereby police could give people a £30 fine and some points on some sort of system if they catch them eating fatty foods while overweight.

Perhaps the government should make gym membership mandatory, like car insurance.

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