Non profit spins news story into propaganda success?

Source: Traffic deaths surge in 2016

My local paper (not linked here) spun this story with anecdotes and quotes that cell phones were the cause of most car crashes (they are not). The story is appearing in online news reports nationwide.

According to the National Highway Transportation Administration, all forms of distracted driving accounted for 10% of all fatal car crashes and 16% of all crashes reported to the police. Cell phone usage is one of several driving distractions.

Cell phone usage was a factor in 3% to 39% of all distracted driving fatal crashes (the percentage varies by age, with the age 20-29 group being the high outlier). That corresponds to 0.3% to 5% of all fatal crashes, and 0.5% to 6% of all car crashes.

Numerous stories claim or imply that cell phones are the cause of most crashes, which is not true. But judging by the comments in my local newspaper, this assertion has been turned into a fact thanks to propaganda and poor journalism.

I made this chart a very long time ago – while it only goes to 2000, the basic issue it illustrates remains true:

 

From a propaganda perspective, this story took off across the country today – originating with the National Safety Council, a safety advocacy organization. The NSC press release lists cell phones as one of many issues in auto safety – the NSC, however, wants to ban all cellular phone operation in automobiles, for any purpose.

The NSC press release also says “The U.S. lags the rest of the developed world in addressing highway fatalities” which is not true. The U.S. is not the worst for accident rates or total accidents even though the U.S. has more population, more drivers, driving more miles than other countries.

The NSC’s propaganda efforts have been a spectacular success, widely distributed in the media, and then amplified by poor reporting and news forum online comments that proclaim this assertion as a fact. Undoubtedly the story has been shared widely on social media. I have not been on social media for a few days as our Internet access has been unreliable and intermittent.

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