It is an eye-popping number. But there is the headline: There was an 800 percent increase in fatal, heavy truck collisions in the North-East region of Ontario compared to last year. Wow that is frightening, a crisis is at hand. At least that is the number attributed to an OPP media release and picked up my most major news outlets in Ontario. But what does that really mean?
North-eastern Ontario may have a large percentage of heavy trucks travelling through selected highways like the TransCanada route which is not a controlled access freeway such as Highway 401. And it is known that two-lane, or non-controlled highways can experience more complicated collision scenario including higher rates of fatality and injury collisions. But there is more…
What does 800 percent mean? If the north-eastern sector of Ontario experienced 1 fatal collision in 2017 and 2 in 2018 that would meant there was a 100 percent increase. Does that mean everyone should be pulling off the highways for fear of being killed by these massive demons?
Further information from the news release provides some concern over what has been reported. The numbers for 2018 compared to 2017 for the various regions of Ontario were included:
Central region, 2 collisions or no change from 2017.
North-west region, 2 collisions or a decrease of 60 percent from 2017.
East region, 8 collisions or an increase of about 33 percent from 2017.
Highway safety division, 3 collisions or and increase of 50 percent from 2017.
West region, 9 collisions or an increase of 12.5 percent from 2017.
The above numbers are all very small. The fluctuation from year to year could simply be the randomness of everyday life and could have nothing to do with whether there is reason for alarm. But the flashy numbers displayed to the public is creating a message in the mind of the public that is passed on from one person to the next: Something must be done with this tremendous crisis!
No doubt there may actually be increases in truck collisions and fatalities in the last couple of years. There are also likely increases in pedestrian, cyclist and motorcycle collisions. But the purpose of police and news media has to be to report factual information that is not misleading. That is the greater problem. Misleading numbers amplify the need for action, any action, regardless of whether it is mindless and unreasoned.