Meaningless Figures

27 January 2011

Do you know how many people were killed on the roads in Australia last Saturday? Or the Thursday before? Or on the same dates last year?

No? Well, don’t worry. Neither do I or most Australian residents, I would imagine. And I’ve no idea whether there are more or fewer accidents on week days than on weekends.

So why do the local media insist on giving us daily figures when it’s a Public Holiday, as in “X number of people died on the roads on Australia Day”? Is this figure more than usual for a Wednesday? Is is greater or less than normal for an Australia Day?

I don’t mean to belittle these tragedies – one person dying in a traffic accident is one too many. But when I’m given these figures, I don’t know whether I’m supposed to rejoice that our driving skills are improving or mourn the fact that too many of us are lousy drivers or drunk.

So note to the ABC, the Sydney Morning Herald and the rest of your ilk – when you’re giving us accident figures, may we have them in context, please?



  1. It’s the same in the UK. News reports say things like, “House prices have fallen 8.2% in recent years”. (This is an actual news item). Precise percentage, imprecise timescale. It’s sloppy reporting.

  2. Recent years? Your grand-daughters’ recent years and your mother’s are entirely different periods of time. Maybe half a decade? Or nearly three-quarters of a decade? (another of my pet hates)

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