Blog post

What Where They Thinking?

By Andrew White | June 27, 2022 | 0 Comments

data sharingData and Analytics

I involuntarily laughed when I read an article over the weekend.  Quickly my laugh was withdrawn as my stomach turned over. An unintended consequence killed the very people a decision was designed to save. This is a story of a nudge that went horribly wrong.

In the Economist last week there was a short article titled, Road Safety: Truth Kills. The ‘road safety’ in question concerns a road sign.  I have seen them, and you may have too.  They are the road signs that report the number of fatal accidences year to date in that particulate state.   The concept behind such signs is that sharing such a depressing piece of information should lead drivers to slow down and/or take more care driving.

Data Sharing – The Wrong Way?

The article reports on some analysis related to fatal road accidents that take place in stretches of road that follow such signs. Statistically the rate of fatal accidents increases in those stretches of road that follow such signs! In fact, the greatest proportion of the ‘excess deaths’, the increase over the average for the road and time frame, took place in the kilometer immediately after the road sign.  That is just incredible. The article reports that authors of the analysis conclude the road sign may distract drivers.

Of course, there maybe other factors at play. Maybe such signs are strung across complex stretches of road; perhaps the reporting of the death count has an impact at different times of the day; or it’s a function of “one too many signs” for a busy stretch of road.  The signs themselves were all-purpose signs.  Some weeks traffic times are showing.  One week in four the fatal road deaths are shown.  The authors found that the increase in fatal road accidents took place during the same weeks in which the fata death number was posted. And that was between 2010 and 2017. So, it looks solid.

Data Without Process Is Less

Every road sign requires a driver to divert their eyes and attention from the road ahead. Surly everyone knows that. It sounds logical that sharing of such data could jar drivers into action.  But the vehicle chosen seems ill-advised.

But perhaps the policy makers in question should publish such data when a motorist updates their vehicle registration?  Or maybe at the DOT location where emissions are tested.  Or maybe the money should be used to advertise on local TV?  Either way we need fewer reasons to look away from the road and things in front and around us, not more.

Comments are closed