8 Ball In The Wind

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Estimates vs Facts

Experience has shown that many of the laws that restrict the liberties of citizens tend to be rooted in a combination of three things;  control, money, and paternalism.  The government agencies all; control your ability to live freely, create fees and charges for you to be able to follow their regulations and rules, create laws that are meant to protect you from your own self, and expect you to submit to the rule of their better judgement.  

Perhaps that is why when you ask a politician or a bureaucrat who supports restricting the freedoms of a group of people based on the supposed safety benefits of a law what they think of that same law being enforced on everyone, they seem to be unable to give a direct reply.  It becomes so much more difficult to trust a person who is actively pushing an agenda, but unable to answer direct questions with a direct answer, because it seems they are unwilling to state their own opinion for the record.  Sometimes people will not use actual data from sources involved directly in an issue, but will create statistics from "estimated" results from a second tier source.  Why would a person do such a thing?  Because it is easier to use "estimates" as the baseline for results, and extrapolate the desired results from those "estimates" than to use actual hard numbers which may not reflect the desired result.

What is meant by that last statement?  NHTSA "estimates" that helmets "to be 37% effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle riders". *  In other words, according to NHTSA; "For every 100 motorcycle riders killed in crashes while not wearing helmets, 37 could have been saved had all 100 worn helmets." (Note that NHTSA states "could" have been saved, not "would" have.)  By using that concept, NHTSA actually created a series of mathematical formula to demonstrate "lives saved" and the "cost savings" of motorcycle helmet use.  The trouble comes from the fact that these formula do not correlate with the actual real world figures.  However that doesn't stop those intent on protecting society from itself from using those mathematical "estimates" as the foundation of their efforts.  The actual real world results do not even appear to be a point of consideration, as they may not provide the support that the "estimates" do for those with paternalistic intentions toward society.

Here is NHTSA's own definition of the "estimates" they use to create the statistics supporting their desire for universal mandatory helmet laws. **


Helmets are estimated to be 37% effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle riders and 41% for motorcycle passengers.  In other words, for every 100 motorcycle riders killed in crashes while not wearing helmets, 37 could have been saved had all 100 worn helmets.


The number of fatalities prevented (an estimate of the number of helmeted motorcyclists who were in crashes in which they would have died had they not worn their helmets).


Additional fatalities preventable at 100-percent use (an
estimate, in addition to the lives saved above, of the number of lives that could have been saved had all motorcyclists worn helmets).


The estimated amount of money, based on current-year dollars, that was saved by motorcyclists wearing helmets which prevented them from receiving fatal, serious, or minor injuries.


Additional costs savable at 100-percent helmet use (an estimate, in addition to the costs saved above, which could have been attained if all motorcyclists wore helmets)

(The five descriptions above were copied directly from the NHTSA source material, and were not altered or paraphrased by myself in anyway.)

The final estimate "Additional Costs Saved" includes such costs as "lost production expenses to employers".  With each fatality costing a lifetime of lost wages, and the loss of productivity to employers, this "estimate" can reach up into the billions of dollars each year.  All based on a mathematical formula that doesn't necessarily match the actual facts.  But as you look at all of these "estimates", do any of them seem concerned with matching the facts?  Or, are they meant to provide an overwhelming foundation of information that would appear to support NHTSA's (and the government in general) desire for safety reasons, a universal mandatory helmet law?

While I am neither a mathematician or a statistician, I do believe I am correct in believing that an estimated number and the real number are not the same.  Yet, that is precisely what NHTSA claims about their formula to find the number of lives saved.  "The first step in determining the number of lives that were saved by motorcycle helmets is to ascertain the number of motorcyclists who died while wearing a helmet. This can be done because the effectiveness of helmets in saving lives is known."  However, NHTSA admits that the effectiveness of motorcycle helmets is only "estimated to be 37%".  So which is it, an "estimate" or a "known"?

Again when it comes to the number "of lives that could have been saved", an "estimate" is used to represent an actual true multiplying factor, not an estimated number.  "The number of lives that could have been saved if every motorcyclist involved in a fatal crash had been wearing a helmet can also be determined. This additional calculation of lives saved by 100-percent helmet use multiplies
the corresponding effectiveness estimate by the number of unhelmeted riders or passengers. This provides the number of these motorcyclists that would have lived had they been wearing a helmet."    By doing this, NHTSA is creating the perception that the data that supports their position is accurate.  Which, as can be shown using Michigan as an example, it is far from accurate.

In her February 9, 2015 testimony before the Senate Transportation Committee on SB5198 Dr, Beth Ebel stated; "Michigan, as was cited before, they estimate 24 more deaths on average per year, after they repealed their helmet law...71 more serious injuries...per year."  This is, according to Dr. Ebel, from a "study" done by the University of Michigan after the 2012 repeal of the helmet law.  However, if you look at the actual numbers from Michigan, an entirely different picture comes into focus.  According to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, in 2012 there were 129 motorcycle deaths in Michigan.  In 2013 that number had dropped slightly to 128.  In 2014, it had dropped to 107.  The number of crashes and injuries also dropped.  Quite different than the "estimate" that NHTSA and the University of Michigan study Dr. Ebel testified about predicted.

This would seem to raise questions about the "quality" of the studies that Dr. Ebel and others in the paternalist community speak of and value so highly.  If "quality" studies are this inaccurate, it brings to question by what standards the "quality" studies she speaks of are based on.  Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word estimate as; "to judge tentatively or approximately the value, worth, or significance of".  The Thesaurus says that "estimate" is another word for "guess".  

Should the government really be making policy based on guesses?  How much faith should be placed in those who oppose allowing citizens to exercise their Rights based upon those "guesses"?  Especially if they oppose real world data, and base that opposition on guess work?  If the actual data is in conflict with the "estimate", what sort of person chooses the "estimate" over the  reality?  Should the citizens liberties be restricted by those who accept guesses as fact, and facts to not be of "quality" simply because the facts are in conflict with the guess they base their position on?  

What do you think?

Catch you on the road sometime...

* NHTSA  Traffic Safety Facts 2012 Data, pg. 7  June 2014
** NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts, Research Note, "Determining Estimates of Lives and Costs Saved by Motorcycle Helmets", March 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment