Annoyed before breakfast -

Annoyed before breakfast


Each year, traffic collisions cost about $25 billion in direct and indirect costs across the country, including some $4 billion in Alberta, said [University of Alberta injury researcher Dr. Louis] Francescutti. Reducing speeding—and the number of crashes and severity of injuries as a result—would translate into saved money and a 20 per cent increase in capacity in the health-care system because there would be no more trauma patients, he said.

Grumpy newspaper hyperbole from Lou Francescutti is as distinctive and reliable a feature of Alberta life as the chinook and the pumpjack. Nearly every time he pops up in one of the dailies, the intelligent reader is obliged to conclude, as the passage cited supra forces him to, that the doctor has either been badly misinterpreted or is a nitwit. After a few years of this you lose interest in trying to figure out which.

Motor vehicle accidents are, in fact, responsible for about 20% of trauma-related hospital expenditures. (CIHI’s best, most recent guess is about 17%. Accidental falls are responsible for three or four times as much of the burden of trauma care as car crashes; indeed, wait a few weeks and you will probably find Dr. Francescutti back in the same paper, saying so.) This suggests that if we banned terrestrial motor transport outright, as opposed to making it fractionally safer, we could achieve “a 20% increase in capacity” in some parts of our healthcare system. The enormously overwhelming majority of Canadian healthcare that is permanently devoted to addressing old age, lifestyle-related conditions, childbirth, and the simple consequences of genetics would remain blissfully untouched. I’m sure these are facts of life you all understand instinctively, but I guess not everyone does.

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Annoyed before breakfast

  1. Alberta can tinker all they want but the only way you they are going to make a dent high speed crashes is if they ban males from driving before the age of 25 or thereabouts.

    Male and female driving differences interest me. I believe women get into more accidents – fender benders in parking lot and the like that don't cause much damage – while males get into fewer accidents but they are likely to be driving 150 km when they do and they end up destroying three cars and killing seven people or somesuch.

  2. Systematically lowering speed limits on urban streets seems to have made a difference for reducing injuries and death for children in the UK according to BMJ.

    You aren't really saying that because car crashes are only 20% of the trauma costs it isn't worth making the effort to prevent them, are you?

  3. If this is all it takes you to be grumpy before breakfast am I ever glad I don't live in your house. This morning I tripped over the cat and spilt my coffee across my keyboard but I'm not holding a grudge.

  4. Well, I literally DIDN'T say it, and nothing I wrote implies it. You aren't really saying that it's OK for injury-prevention experts to make unreasonable claims if it's for a good cause, are you?

  5. Interesting study, had not seen it before. Do you know if they looked at other factors than speed for what caused accident? My understanding is that distractions are the major cause of accidents – parent is driving slightly over speed limit, kids are screaming in back and parent looks to see what's going on and then gets into accident.

    Was it speed or distraction that caused accident?

    If Alberta pols really want to get serious about accidents, they should remove most/all traffic signs.

    "On Handford Road in Ipswich, England, there are no stop signs, no posted speed limits, no lane lines, and hardly any traffic lights. Yet drivers politely edge aside to make room for other drivers, they slow down, and they yield to bikers and pedestrians."

    "When Ulrike Rubcic heard that her town would take down all of its traffic lights, she rolled her eyes in disbelief. Tucked between cornfields and cow meadows, the main street in this bucolic northern German community was also a thoroughfare with thousands of cars and trucks zooming to or from nearby Osnabruck. "Are we waiting for the first accident?" she thought then."

  6. Damm, please put that last line first next time… I screwed up.

  7. If this oft-quoted researcher is such a serial abuser of matters of fact, have you ever bothered to ask him to clarify his remarks Mr. Cosh? After all, you're the …journalist. I'm sure we news consumers don't pay to figure out whether an authority quoted in an article has been badly misinterpreted or is a nitwit.

  8. You used your own hyperbole to be dismissive of injury prevention:

    "This suggests that if we banned terrestrial motor transport outright, as opposed to making it fractionally safer, we could achieve “a 20% increase in capacity” in some parts of our healthcare system."

  9. It isn't the distractions, it's the sense of immunity that drivers are given when they a) have the system planned around their flow as a priority and b)respond to traffic controls rather than to the likelihood that a pedestrian, cyclist or other vehicle will appear.

    Hans Monderman's free for all intersections work because all the users expect to encounter one another, and negotiate for space in the roadway.

  10. The math is indeed nefarious. As per Colby, let's assume 20% of trauma is for car accidents. In the link it said 30% of fatal accidents occurred when driving at unsafe speeds. Injuries were down around 12. Let's use 30% for fun. Imagine better speed control could eliminate 50% of all trauma cases where cars were traveling at unsafe speeds (a ridiculoulsly high estimate).

    Now the math.

    20% of all trauma from car accidents.
    30% of all trauma from "unsafe" speeding (we're down to 30% of 20% – that's 6%)
    50% reduction of that 6% – we're down to a 3% increase in ER capacity. So even if speeding control could eliminate 50% of all speed-induced trauma, you'd be left with only a 3% increase in ER capacity.

  11. Yes, because automotive driving of absolutely all kinds–fast, slow, forwards, backwards–consumes about 20% of the resources of a large part of our healthcare system, though a considerably smaller fraction of the whole. How is it "hyperbole" to point this out, in an exceedingly liberal effort to make some sense of what Francescutti is represented as saying? Are you quite sure you know what that word means?

  12. Yeah I'm sure, and I"m waiting to hear what you think a reasonable approach to automobile injury prevention should be.

  13. Alberta can tinker all they want but the only way you they are going to make a dent high speed crashes is if they ban males from driving before the age of 25 or thereabouts.

    If Alberta pols really want to get serious about accidents, they should remove most/all traffic signs.

    Can you please clarify which change you believe is the catchall solution for automobile collisions?

    Hypothetical scenario:

    Studies find that females aged 45 – 55 are statistically more likely to be in high speed crashes. Do you support a ban of this subgroup of drivers? How about if we change females to a particular racial group? Do you support the ban still?

  14. Ok, so the doctor said something stupid, but doesnt the fault lie more with Richards And Van Rassel who sought out the doctor's opinion and pulled that tidbit to insert into the paper? I realize that Francescutti is probably widely known as a good quote for such articles… but it is not as if he held a press conference.

  15. Try eating breakfast earlier.

  16. You could eliminate all traffic accidents if people are forbidden to drive. Likewise you could eliminate all slips/falls if people are forbidden to move. You could eliminate many long-term health issues by forcing people to eat healthy. Hell, why don't we just chain people to exercise bikes and force them to alternate between cycling and a carrot-juice feeding tube. They'd practically live forever.

    Oh yes, that whole "freedom" thing.

    This is one of the downsides of socialized medicine: if the government is paying for your care, it becomes the government's business how healthily you choose to live. If you pay for your own care then no one else gets a say in how your behaviour impacts the amount of care you need to purchase.

  17. Dr. Francescutti is indeed the media's go-to guy for safety issues in Alberta. It seems as though the reporters gave him a call about a recently released government report and he had to respond without time for thought. It looks as though he had a little trouble generating statistics and solid quotes on the spot.

    It's an obvious weakness in contemporary Canadian journalism that reporters always turn to the same old reliable sources for a quotation. It may be related to the fact that so few reporters are able to spend a lot of time building up expertise in a particular area, with staff cutbacks.

  18. That, and Francescutti is very motivated (genuinely, I believe) about his area of expertise. Over the years he has learned how to manipulate the media – I say that in the nicest possible way – by providing that easily quotable quote. And so the media responds by going to the guy who readily gives them what they need for the story.

  19. Yeah, but the cat's holding a grudge. I'd be extra careful going downstairs.

  20. Here's another quote from Dr. Louis Francescutti. Make of it what you will:
    "When it comes to speed, the average Albertan is a Neanderthal. They have no concept of what speed does," Dr Francescutti said. "As an emergency physician, I see no shortages of these fools coming into our emergency department busted up. When you hear what they were doing, it is no surprise," he said.

  21. Your logic ignores the fact that your speeding (or other risky public behaviour) can endanger my health. Surely I can logically want the government to protect me from you.

    Or does your vehilce have that popular bumper sticker "If you don't like the way I drive, stay off the sidewalk."?

    As far as risky private behaviour is concerned, you do indeed have a point.

  22. Smith summed it up very well.

    You have the right to defend yourself from me if you feel threatened – such cases get adjudicated after the fact and the aggressor faces consequences. You also have the right to have the government punish me and force me to make amends (if possible) if I harm you. That is the way government best protects people: by forcing bad consequences for harm done and thus deterring most people from doing harm or engaging in behaviour that will likely harm others.

    When government tries to protect people by forcing them not to do things that might cause harm, it inevitably reduces overall freedom by shifting the responsibility for safe behaviour from individuals to their supervisory government.

  23. To me, speeding is a side-effect of larger issues: inept drivers. If the criteria for obtaining a driving licence was made more difficult, and if penalties were harsher for certain infractions (i.e. automatic licence suspensions of at least six months for driving 40% over the maximum allowable speed, travelling in the passing lane, etc) then the appeal of acting like a twit would be reduced.

    The skill of drivers in places like Germany and Switzerland far exceeds the skill of the average Canadian driver, which, combined with their excellent road infrastructure, helps increase the safety of all motorists in those countries (and explains why they can have traffic travel safely at 130 kph). As well, their superior train and bus networks are a true viable alternative to motor vehicles, so the people who don't drive have a realistic alternative to owning a motor vehicle.

  24. This attitude assumes that I can receive appropriate remedies after your choices kill me. Executing you does not even things out.

    • I doesn't really help either that's it's so darn easy to get a driving liscence in Canada. Nothing about the process shows people how easy is it for your car to lose control or think proactively while driving. Even under stringent rules the most well intentioned person can get in a heap of trouble.

      That's why I'm a huge advocate of education before regulation. Which is why I'm also a huge admirer of the system in Finland. Testing there includes the ability to control the car in slippery driving conditions.

  25. No, it doesn't necessarily assume that. It does assume, however, that the overall benefit to society in terms of freedom and deterrance outweighs the fact that a few individuals are going to suffer from wrongs that cannot be righted.

    It's also worth noticing that your approach doesn't eliminate injury without remedy either.

  26. So true. People often forget that the media need content to feed on, just like humans need air, food and water. People (like this doctor) who get that realize that if they give the media what they want and need (nice, juicy, easily digestible content), the media monster is happy. It's a classic symbiotic relationship.

  27. There's another factor re Europeans as well: they simply have a different attitude towards risk and risky behaviour than North Americans do. Look at our civil tort system, which is, IMO, utterly idiotic in some of its underlying assumptions (and certainly idiotic in some of the court decisions that come out of it — witness the MacDonald's coffee spill case). In my view, the Europeans have a far more rational attitude in general towards risk — they seem to grasp the fact that life, or at least a sensible life, entails some inherent risk and danger. Related to that, they don't go in for this ridiculous view held by large swaths of North Americans that life should be utterly safe. This is just daft, period. A good illustration of this difference is the difference in ski hill design and allocation of liability. Go to a ski area in Europe. The Euros understand this concept called voluntary assumption of risk. The Euros have it right. We have it wrong.

  28. If I understand Gaunilon's logic on these matters… the fact that other speeders have injured other pedestrians should not be held against him. If he wants to speed, drive drunk etc, he is perfectly willing to be held accountable if something goes wrong… but otherwise please leave him alone.

  29. It's pretty damn hard to get a driver's license these days. It takes longer than 5 years. It requires taking an accredited course. It involves multiple written exams and at least 2 driving exams.

    Also, your comments seem to be contradictory. On the one hand, you want to ban any driver, no matter how skilled, who goes 40% over the speed limit, which on most highways is 140 kph. Then you praise Euros for their ability to drive comfortably at 130 kph.

  30. Actually, my comments concern the lack of skill shown by Canadian drivers, particularly in regards to their ability to assess road conditions. I would trust Canadians to travel at 130 kph if conditions allowed for it, i.e. the drivers were sufficiently skilled, and if the roadways were designed for and permitted this speed. The former is unfortunately rare, and the latter is uncommon in Canada, with many of the freeways in western Canada seeming positively archaic when compared to European motorways. As such, someone travelling 140 kph on a Canadian freeway that is barely safe at 100 kph is being a twit, and as such should have their licence suspended until they cultivate a modicum of common sense.

    To Orson: I agree with you wholeheartedly. Life isn't risk-free, and people need to accept that almost any activity, short of bouncing around in a padded room in a padded suit, carries a degree of risk. Having said that, some of the more difficult activities, like operating a two-tonne vehicle at speed, require a stricter assessment of skill than other activities in order to prevent unnecessary carnage and paperwork.

  31. I'd have to completely disagree. Europeans I know have told me how much easier it is to drive in Canada. And that is my own experience as well. Driving in Europe is more difficult, both off the highway and on it. The traffic is dense, the road is winding, the exits and entrances are frequent and often have little warning. Driving in Canada is much easier. In my opinion, there are few highways in Canada with 100 kph speed limits that I cannot easily drive safely at 140 kph. Very few.

  32. Um, a fall? Fractured hip?

    Car Crash? Take your pick of traumas.

    Do a cost analysis breakdown of the types (and the costs) of car crashes and falls. Colby Cosh = fail.

  33. I'm referring to costs, not raw numbers of cases, throughout that last paragraph. The link you didn't bother following does break down average costs per hospital admission; falls are each 15% less expensive than traffic accidents… and 379% more common. Also, the indirect morbidity and mortality from fractured hips is staggeringly enormous. Anonymous Internet Guy = colossal multiple fail.

  34. Wells won't fire back any more. Glad you will!