Maybe it's just me. I hate statistics. In fact, I became a writer so I wouldn't have to work with numbers. The only training in statistics I've ever had was a course in journalism school called “How to lie with statistics.” It was a great class, but it made me hate numbers even more. The content of the course can be summed up in four or, um, maybe five words: “lies, damn lies and statistics.” After that class, I started to worry that even when I understood the statistics, I might not trust them. That has turned out to be a bad career move.
Even though I try to avoid them, numbers and statistics follow and confound me wherever I go. It's tough to do good, hard-hitting stories if you're always questioning — or ignoring — the perfectly good statistics people feed you. I miss out on a lot of good stories that way.
I had a dream not long ago in which Louisiana Congressman Billy Tauzin chases me around with a sheet of paper full of statistics saying, “I have a list!” He says the list shows that a bunch of replacement tires Ford Motor Co. is using are worse than the ones being thrown out. Then Ford Chief Executive Jacques Nasser jumps into my dream and screams: “Explorer is one of the safest trucks in the world! Show me the list!” Then they start throwing numbers as big as pillows at each other. I'm in the middle, dodging the pillow numbers, slowly being buried in big, fluffy digits that make no sense. You don't need to be Sigmund Freud to understand the symbolism in my dreams.
Now I have a new dilemma. Where is the moral outrage over the killer Camaro, and the murderous Lincoln Town Car? Why are so many frittering away their time trying to outlaw sport/utility vehicles while these killers remain on the loose, putting hundreds of innocent drivers into early (or in the case of the Lincoln Town Car, not-so-early) graves?
Why isn't some valued member of the legal profession demanding that Chevrolet Camaro and all midsize sports cars be recalled and their defects fixed?
Why am I wondering this?
Statistically, the Camaro is the most dangerous car on the road, and the Lincoln Town Car has a scary driver fatality rate as well.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says the “highest death rates are in midsize sports cars.” IIHS goes on to single out the Chevrolet Camaro, Camaro convertible and Pontiac Firebird (which is the same platform) saying they all “have very high death rates in single-vehicle crashes, and that has been true model year after model year.”
Wow, talk about a smoking gun.
Rollover deaths? The latest data compiled by IIHS says Camaro has 104 rollover fatalities per million registered vehicle years (PMRVY). The convertible has 167, while the Ford Explorer has 26 rollover fatalities PMRVY. The Jeep Cherokee, another SUV some folks think is dangerous, has only 15 rollover fatalities PMRVY.
When you consider all types of crashes, in addition to rollovers, the bodies pile up even more. Using the latest data available, the IIHS says Camaros have a driver death rate of 308 PMRVY, for all types of crashes, more than three times the average of 89 deaths PMRVY.
Explorer has a death rate of 56 PMRVY. The Isuzu Rodeo, which has not been demonized lately, has almost double the fatality rate: 99 deaths PMRVY.
The stately Lincoln Town Car, while far less dangerous to drive than a Camaro, or even an “average” car, still has a death rate that “is surprisingly high” for its segment, says IIHS: 77 deaths PMRVY.
Why aren't the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. or consumer advocates ordering investigations?
Kim Hazelbaker, a senior vice president at IIHS says that — incredibly — just about everyone agrees that “testosterone and alcohol” are the factors that kill Camaro drivers, not mysterious “design defects.”
So-called “demographic factors” also explain the higher-than-expected fatality rate for Town Cars: 56% of people killed in Town Car crashes during '95-'98 were 65 years or older, compared with 15% of all fatally injured drivers.
I looked up the federal government's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and found that the only people as prone to killing themselves in car crashes as young males are men over 80.
However, Mr. Hazelbaker could not explain why 2-door cars are less safe than those with four doors. I wondered if there were design defects in 2-door cars. Then I wondered about Humpty Dumpty, did he fall — or was he pushed?
One question no one seems able to answer: Where do demographic factors leave off and real defects begin? And does anyone really have statistics good enough to prove it one way or the other?
I wish I had time to figure that out, but I have to start packing. I heard somewhere that 90% of all accidents occur within five miles of home, so I'm moving.
Listen to Drew Winter and other Ward's editors Monday and Thursday on WJR 760 AM radio in Detroit.