Keeping Automakers’ Sales Truly Safe: The Edmund’s Conference

SRS was in attendance, Tuesday, as the cyber sales team at Edmund’s ushered in a “new chapter in the conversation between government, the auto industry, safety advocates, academics and consumers, marked by thoughtful, data-driven contributions from all.”

It was written amid cocktails and at more sobering and highly-scripted venues inside the Newseum, the 250,000 square-foot monument to journalism in Washington DC.  If Edmund’s is going to author the new chapter on safety, consumers beware.

In the conference brochure, Edmund’s CEO Jeremy Anwyl tells participants that the Toyota Unintended Acceleration crisis was the impetus for the meeting: “ watched as a shallow conversation made international headlines. We felt uneasy about the lack of real discussion taking place among smart people with the power to change laws, introduce technology and educate drivers.” Continue reading

Car Salesmen and Math

We all know that car salesmen are whizzes at those back-of-the-envelope calculations on monthly payments and trade-ins, but when it comes to more sophisticated data analysis – they’re not there yet.

To wit, Edmund’s most recent foray into numbers crunching: Finds Uptick of Traffic Deaths Among 51-to-65-Year-Old Men Since 2000

What, you say? Who are all of these hot-rodding grandfathers dying shamelessly at increasing rates? And more importantly, how come whenever we’re stuck behind one of them, they seem to be driving so slowly?

“According to NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), the number of annual traffic fatalities for men 51-65 rose by almost one-quarter from 2000 to 2009 (the last year for which data is available). In comparison, annual fatality figures for all male drivers during that time declined more than 20 percent. Fatality figures for female drivers also declined 20 percent during the ten-year period,” the press release said.

“We spend a lot of worthwhile energy teaching younger generations about the virtues of staying safe on the road — especially when it comes to the dangers of drinking and driving — and based on the stats, it looks like they’re getting that message,” said CEO Jeremy Anwyl. “But the baby boomer generation is not heeding the same advice they’re giving to their children. There needs to be a longer look at why there are more traffic deaths within this age group while all others are seeing fewer.”

Excellent point! Statistician Randy Whitfield has done just that, and it appears that the problem is not over-the-hill hypocrites climbing behind the wheel, half-cocked on too many martoonies. It’s data analysis that fails to employ standard statistical methodologies and controls.

Whitfield analyzed driver death rates for the U.S. population in standard age ranges from 50 through 69, to fully overlap the Edmund’s study group, using NHTSA’s FARS data for and Federal Highway Administration drivers’ licensure data, both from calendar years 2000-2009. Whitfield found that the increase in deaths is related to the increase in the number of licensed drivers. Male licensed drivers in the 59-60 age group rose by 33 percent over the study period, but increase in death was actually slower at 21 percent.

Whitfield’s takeaway?

“Edmunds asked why there are more traffic deaths in 2009 compared to 2000 within the 51-65 age group, while all other age groups have fewer deaths. An answer that does not involve recourse to unmeasured, hypothetical driver attitudes toward safety is that there are so many more drivers in this age group in 2009 than there were in 2000. Conversely, part of the explanation for the reduction in male driver deaths in other age groups is simply that the size of that subpopulation has remained relatively stable. This demographic bulge in the population age structure is just what gave the ‘baby boomers’ their name.”

Read Whitfield’s full analysis

This “analysis,” in advance of Edmund’s exciting May conference, entitled “Truly Safe? Debunking Myths and Crafting Effective Policies for Car Safety,” is a preview of the let’s-blame-sucky-drivers mantra that manufacturers have leaned on since the first Model-T rolled off the assembly line. And, in truth, there’s speeding, refusing to buckle up, texting while driving, and any number of ways that drivers mortgage their safety behind the wheel. But are these the myths in need of debunking?