Is the sky really falling?

Drink driving is something of a problem in New Zealand, as it is in most countries. But the problem has an inherent problem of its own.

"Road safety officials admit their multi-million dollar awareness campaigns aren't working.

Despite the Government ploughing $3.3 million into anti-drink-driving campaigns this year alone, the number of offenders is skyrocketing and is now at record levels." NZ Herald

The problem with expecting advertising campaigns to make a difference to the incidence of drink driving is fundamental. The campaigns are designed to change attitudes to drink driving. If you set the wrong objective you will nullify the outcome. Changes in attitude I have written about this before.

The problem is that the pious, 'thou shalt not drink and drive' message works for people who don't drink and drive - it reinforces their behaviour. It has no effect on those who do and so, therefore, is a waste of a stupendous amount of money.

On the matter of the cost of anti-drink driving campaigns, it is disingenuous only to include the advertising expenditure. The actual resource assigned to the problem is monumentally more when you factor in the number of people employed to produce the toothless propaganda - who should certainly be wondering about their tenure (and whom the new government should be focusing their forensic accounting). I have been told by a former senior executive of the LTSA that the cost of answering political questions in the House of Parliament cost thousands of hours of research - which points to another fundamental issue that Drink Driving is an easy emotional touch point for the 'law and order' debate.

In the Herald report it is hysterically reported that: 'the overall number of drink-drivers soared from 25,133 in 2003 to more than 34,700 in the year to November 30"
However, when so many more police resources are assigned to random stop checks then it is obvious that the figures will increase correspondingly. If there were more fisheries officers then the number of fish, crustacean and shellfish poachers caught would skyrocket. The Herald also skews the figures by quoting the 'raw' data. Rather than quoting the number of successful prosecutions, rather than, effectively, accusations reinforces the idea that: "If you torture statistics for long enough they will confess to any thing."

It might be worthwhile to ponder that iatrogenic disease is one of the biggest killers in the developed world, including New Zealand. It is estimated by some to be third largest killer in the United States.

The terms iatrogenesis and iatrogenic artifact refer to adverse effects or complications caused by or resulting from medical treatment or advice. In addition to harmful consequences of actions by physicians, iatrogenesis can also refer to actions by other healthcare professionals, such as psychologists, therapists, pharmacists, nurses, dentists, and others. Iatrogenisis is not restricted to conventional medicine and can also result from complementary and alternative medicine treatments.


It would be fair to assume that New Zealand experiences a similar incidence of iatrogenic disease, resulting in death. But the problem with this killer is that the bad guy isn't a drunk driver (unless we're talking Wanganui obstetricians). When the good guys are the bad guys it is not so black and white - in fact it is too hard to contemplate, so we don't.

The bottom line is that we have to be wary of the motives of pressure groups when they spin statistics. The subtext of the story about drink driving promotes fear - using language like 'epidemic' is the same kind of UnSpeak that resulted in the disgraceful Homeland Security legislation in the US. Create a fearful population and get more control. It has nothing to do with the reality of the situation.

Bureaucrats and propagandists who have consistently failed to communicate anything meaningful to the public that makes a blind bit of difference to outcomes (other than an increase of the behaviour they say they are aiming to decrease) had better not ask for more money to squander. There's a recession on.

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