The AP’s headline gravely informs us that Alcohol-related driving deaths up. Yet, here is a wonderful case where a headline screams an alarmist message that the story itself does not really substantiate. Now, it is true that columnists and journalists rarely, if ever, write their own headlines so maybe we shouldn’t tsk tsk writer Natasha T. Metzler. But, one would hope that the so-called professionals who write the headlines that appear at the top of a story would actually read the story before creating such a header. In this case, it seems that the headline writer went straight for sensationalism without bothering to read most of the story he was capping. And, naturally, the sensationalism is that alcohol related deaths have “increased” over the 2005 stats.
Granted the first paragraph of the story makes the bald faced statement that “fatalities increased” in 2006, but as you read the story closer, that claim proves chimerical if not practically false even by the stats cited in the story itself.
ARLINGTON, Va. – Drunken driving fatalities increased in 22 states in 2006 and fell in 28 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, federal transportation officials said Monday.
As the piece goes on, though, there are so many qualifications and out right exaggerations that the claim of an alarmist “fatalities increased” seems not as obvious as it at first appears. And, notice the caveat in that first paragraph, anyway. The header says “Deaths Up,” but the story says it was only “up” in less than half the states.
In fact, the very next paragraph shows that deaths are down nationally where alcohol was involved.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released data showing there were 13,470 deaths in 2006 involving drivers and motorcycle operators with blood alcohol levels of .08 or higher, which is the legal limit for adults throughout the country. The number was down slightly from 2005, when 13,582 people died in crashes involving legally drunk drivers.
Then the AP finally divulges the stats that caused them to say deaths were “up”:
The overall number of deaths involving drivers and motorcycle operators with any amount of alcohol in their blood was 17,602 last year. That was up from 17,590 in 2005, according to spokeswoman Heather Ann Hopkins.
“Up” 12 deaths from one year to the next! That is barely a statistical blip in a nation of 300 million people. It barely even registers as a rise. Is THIS enough to say deaths are “up,” AP? To most statisticians, that would be a stat showing that the number of deaths remained fairly constant.
The US government is even debunking the headline as U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters says, “The number of people who died on the nation’s roads actually fell last year.”
So, as it all turns out, alcohol deaths aren’t really up. In fact, overall they are down. Yet, here is the AP with a headline and an alarmist first paragraph that makes it seem as if things are getting worse. And thanks to the AP for taking what is sort of good news into an alarm of worry.