The drug czar is once again pushing his ridiculous drugged driving crusade with more meaningless data, and while the press isn’t completely rolling over dead, they’re comatose and the fact that they even print this stupidity is an insult to journalism.
Let’s take a look at CNN. In an article posted by CNN Medical Senior Producer David Martin, we have:
The meaningless data
A first-ever drug analysis of drivers killed in car crashes found one in three tested positive for drugs in 2009, the Office of National Drug Control Policy reported Tuesday. […]
The presence of all types of drugs in fatal crashes has increased 5 percent in the past five years, according to 2005-2009 data, compiled and analyzed for the first time by NHTSA. Of the 12,055 drivers tested in 2009, 3,952 tested positive for drugs.
The meaningless hype
Gil Kerlikowske, director of the National Drug Control Policy, said the percentage was alarming and should serve as a wakeup call.
â€œWe have not paid very much attention to the drugged driving issue,â€ Kerlikowske, President Obamaâ€™s so-called drug czar, told CNN. â€œIt is a significant problem.â€
The meaningless quote from a clueless “expert”
David W. Kaufman, associate director at the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University, said the results were not inconsistent with surveys he and his colleagues have conducted.
â€œThereâ€™s no question that people are taking a lot of drugs, and some of these drugs might affect their ability to operate motor vehicles,” he said. “I think itâ€™s fair to say thereâ€™s more to worry about than people drinking too much.â€
The partial disclaimer buried deep in the story so CNN can pretend that they’re responsible journalists
The Office of National Drug Control Policy figures released Tuesday do not suggest drug use was responsible for the fatal accident, nor do they implicate the driver who died. The report also doesnâ€™t determine whether the increase might be the result of Americans taking more medications, generally.
The AP has more. They note that the researchers at NHTSA tried to downplay the hype, and yet they added a category of their own to the story:
The meaningless and irrelevant anecdote
In July 2009, a New York mother sped the wrong way for more than a mile with a minivan full of children, leading to a crash that killed her and seven others. The woman had a blood-alcohol level 2 1/2 times the legal limit and had smoked marijuana within an hour of the crash.
In Phoenix, the driver of a dump truck struck a group of motorcycle riders in March, killing four people and injuring five others. Initial tests found the driver had methamphetamine in his system.
That’s right. Out of the entire two stories they came up with to show that drugged driving (supposedly separate from drunk driving) is a problem, one of them involved someone with a blood-alcohol level 2.5 times the legal limit.
OK, now let’s take a look at this story as if we were, oh, real journalists with integrity.
- Has there been an increase or decrease in overall traffic fatalities nationally? Story doesn’t say. Drug Czar doesn’t say. Shouldn’t this be the first question asked? If there’s an increase in drugs showing up in fatalities, how is it an issue if there’s no corresponding increase in traffic fatalities? For all we know, an overall increase in drug use could be reducing fatalities.
- What is the rate of drugs present in the non-fatality drivers? Without that as comparison, there’s nothing to indicate… anything. What if it turns out that drug presence is less prevalent in fatalities than non-fatalities?
- “Researchers said the numbers could be higher because only about 3 in 5 drivers who were killed in car crashes were tested for drugs after the crash and testing varied from state to state.” Hmmm… The numbers could also be lower because only 3 in 5 drivers were tested for drugs after the crash. In fact, wouldn’t it be even more likely that drivers were tested for drugs in cases where drugs were believed to be involved? That might actually skew the results.
- What about the change in drug usage in the general population? I just visited my Dad. He’s the safest driver I know, and yet he takes about 16 pills every day as part of what his doctor prescribes for various issues related to getting older. Not all prescription drugs cause impairment, and our population is aging. Old cautious drivers with drugs in their systems may be safer than young inexperienced sober drivers trying to impress a date.
- What about relevance of the data?
- We know nothing about whether the crashes were caused by drugs.
- We know nothing about whether the drugs involved cause impairment.
- We know nothing about whether the drugs were merely in the system (as marijuana remains for days) or whether they were “active.”
So, what do we have, here?
Interesting research, sure. But absolutely nothing of validity regarding the connection between drugs and driving fatalities.
If Kerlikowske shows up at a press conference in DC with nonsense like this, you don’t print it and then say “well, we really don’t know for sure.” The responsible thing to do is laugh in his face, tell him to come back when he has some science to share, and then turn around and walk out. Especially if you’re CNN Medical Senior Producer David Martin.
What I wish is that they’d start testing for the stomach contents of drivers in fatal crashes, so I could look at the data and then put out this press release:
A first-ever stomach analysis of drivers killed in car crashes found one in three tested positive for beans in 2010.
Pete Guither, Executive Director of the Prohibition Isn’t Free Foundation, said the percentage was alarming and should serve as a wakeup call.
â€œWe have not paid very much attention to the driving while under the influence of beans issue,â€ he told CNN. â€œIt is a significant problem.â€
David W. Doofus, associate director at CEMQ (Center for Expert Media Quotes), said the results were not inconsistent with surveys he and his colleagues have conducted.
â€œThereâ€™s no question that people are eating a lot of beans, and some of these beans might affect the environmental integrity of automotive atmospheric systems, thereby distracting the driver in potentially dangerous ways.” he said. “I think itâ€™s fair to say thereâ€™s more to worry about than people drinking too much.â€
Guither noted that a recent incident had involved a truck driver crashing because of pork rinds. “Imagine if it had been beans,” Guither intoned ominously. “Children might be dead.”