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Accuracy matters when crunching accident statistics

Most drivers have seen 18-wheelers parked near the entrance and exit ramps of North Carolina interstates, but few may consider why they are stopped or if it is dangerous for the big rigs to pull over there.

In most cases, the truck drivers pull over and stop in order to get some mandated rest and be in compliance with federal Hours of Service regulations. But as it turns out, the danger may have been greatly overstated.

The North Carolina Highway Patrol relied on faulty data and skewed collision statistics to crack down on truckers parked by the ramps after a political crony of the governor complained about the trucks' "unsightly" presence near a winery he owned.

Under pressure from state leaders, troopers began writing tickets last year to dozing truckers along I-77. Last summer, a NCHP captain requested some hasty data on interstate wrecks from the Department of Transportation. In less than an hour, the responding engineer sent along statistics for the past half-decade.

According to his research, "[c]rashes involving parked vehicles on the interstates statewide is less than 1 percent, but these same crashes comprise nearly 20 percent of ALL fatalities on the interstates."

Sounds like a lot, that 20 percent, doesn't it? But the problem is that the engineer made a mistake collecting the data. So troopers concentrated their efforts on snoozing scofflaw truckers based on non-existent crash statistics.

One can certainly make a case that a single death due to an illegally parked 18-wheeler is one too many. But the improperly crunched numbers indicated that 101 lives had been lost due to these parked trucks; the actual number of fatalities in that time frame was five.

Of course, if you are a survivor of one of the five deceased people, that's not much consolation. All precautions should be taken to reduce injuries and deaths from interstate collisions. Seeking justice in those cases can involve filing a lawsuit in civil court.

Source: The Charlotte Observer, "Road Worrier: Sloppy data drove NC Highway Patrol’s ‘data-driven’ crackdown," Bruce Siceloff, March 07, 2016

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