Friday, 7 June 2013

Why let the facts get in the way of a good story?

Earlier this week, Top Gear fans everywhere gave a warm welcome to the news that police would be given new powers to fine people who drive in the middle lane on motorways for too long. At the time, I pointed out on Twitter that the people cheering the ability to fine motorists who "get in their way" on the road are the same ones who scream "war on motorists!" if laws on speeding, jumping red lights and so on are enforced against them.

The Mail was delighted with the crackdown on "road hogs" but today they're firmly back in the "enforcing the law is a bad thing" camp.

The RAC Foundation has today published a weighty analysis of the impact of speed cameras on accident rates. The headline findings?
Deaths and serious injuries down a quarter near speed cameras
Analysis of datafor 551 fixed speed cameras in 9 areas shows that on average the number of fatal and serious collisions in their vicinity fell by more than a quarter (27%) after their installation.There was also an average reduction of 15% in personal injury collisions in the vicinity of the 551 cameras.

And that's the line that is being widely reported elsewhere, for example on the BBC:

And in the Belfast Telegraph:

But over in Mailworld, speed cameras have always been A Bad Things, unfairly penalising innocent drivers whose only crime is to break the law. So a report that describes a correlation between speed cameras and a fall in fatal and serious accidents cannot be allowed to stand. Fortunately for the narrative favoured by the Derry Street massive, the RACF also found that at just under four per cent of speed camera locations the number of serious accidents had increased following the installation of cameras. Which gives them the excuse to use this headline:

The story begins:
"Speed cameras are increasing the risk of a fatal or serious accidents in some areas, a study suggests. It highlights a number of sites where collision rates have risen ‘markedly’ since cameras were put in place. The study raises new doubts about the usefulness of speed cameras."

Of course, the study does nothing of the sort. Nowhere does it raise any "new doubts about the usefulness of speed cameras", which is why the Mail is unable to quote what any of them are. Over and over again the report underlines the decline in accidents after the installation of cameras:
"Seven of the ten results in Table A2.1 point clearly to reductions in PIC [personal injury collisions of all severities] ranging from about 9% to 32% following camera establishment. Two of the others indicate no change, and one points clearly to an increase of about 10%." - p31
"Nine of the ten results in Table A2.2 point clearly to reductions in FSC [fatal or serious collisions] ranging from about 15% to 53% following camera establishment. The other indicates an increase of about 5%, which could well have arisen by chance." - p32
"Six of the ten results in Table A2.3 point clearly to higher numbers of PIC per year in the last three full years before camera establishment than in previous years." - p36
"Five of the ten results in Table A2.4 point clearly to higher numbers of FSC per year in the last three full years before camera establishment than in previous years" - p37
"In terms of severity of collisions, this indicates that in the vicinity of cameras in this partnership area the number of casualties per collision was about 10% lower, the proportion of collisions that were fatal or serious was about 55% lower and the proportion of casualties that were KSI [killed or seriously injured] was about 50% lower after establishment of cameras than well before their establishment" - p45

The vast majority of the report points towards speed cameras making the roads safer. Yes, there is an an acknowledgement that in less than four per cent of cases the number of accidents has gone up, but the Mail even manages to misrepresent this. Professor Stephen Glaister from the RAC Foundation says:

"The study has also identified a number of camera sites in the vicinity of which collisions seem to have risen markedly. This may or may not be related to the cameras but warrants further investigation. Therefore, on the basis of this study, we have now written to eleven local authorities suggesting they examine the positioning and benefits of a total of 21 cameras."

Note the large caveat in bold - he's saying that further work is needed to establish whether speed cameras are responsible for the increase in accidents. How does the Mail present this?

"The RAC Foundation, who carried out the study, believes some of the cameras appear to be causing accidents rather than preventing them."

How exactly does the RAC Foundation saying "this may or may nor be related to the cameras" turn into the RAC Foundation believing "some of the cameras appear to be causing accidents"? To give the Mail some credit they do print the part of Prof Glaister's quote in which he adds this caveat. But they chop out the first half of his statement, which reads:
"At the end of 2010 we published a report by Professor Richard Allsop which concluded that without speed cameras there would be around 800 more people killed or seriously injured each year at that time. Overall his new work reinforces those earlier conclusions".

Instead, this is relegated to the very last line of the entire story, when it is not even run as a direct quote.

Elsewhere, the Mail tries to make us think the situation could be even worse, that speed cameras could be killing and maiming countless thousands of innocent drivers up and down the country.

"And [The RAC Foundation] say that because only a third of speed-camera partnerships overall supplied data in a usable form, the true extent of the problem could be much worse."

However, yet again the RAC Foundation have said nothing of the sort. The report highlights that two-thirds of bodies required to release data on speed cameras and accidents have failed to do so. And Prof Glaister complains that this is "dissapointing". But because the report was produced by a sensible academic, one who understands that you make judgements based on the evidence you can see rather than what you can't, it does not at any point say that "the true extent of the problem could be much worse". To claim they have done so is a total fabrication, a lie.

As if this hatchet job wasn't enough, the Mail decide to finish the job by introducing another pet hate:

"Supporters of speed cameras have given them the more politically-correct title of ‘safety cameras’"

Quite how calling something a "safety camera" instead of a "speed camera" is "politically correct" is beyond me, but it all adds to the Mail narrative of "bad stuff being forced on normal folk" - speed cameras, political correctness, I'm shocked they didn't try to squeeze gay marriage and Muslims in there somehow too.

Further down there's a reference to "so-called Safety Camera Partnerships". Why the "so-called"? That's what they ARE called. If we're going to start adding that prefix to statements that some may not agree with, it's only fair to call Ray Massey, the author of this piece a so-called journalist, and his employers a so-called newspaper.


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Unknown said...

Did you know that your columns are merging making this completely unreadable.

Unknown said...

Its unbelievable this Twitter Bully jumps on the bandwagaon to support "a friend" and just say anything to get a little tick in their box. But of course becomes a bully. Then when all the bullies are checked out later, we find that their websites are really very poor. So it is obvious that are lacking something, be it brains or bollocks because they act like this. This website needs a bit of work on it sunshine.