Thursday, 19 March 2009

NOT PJ: Wheel of Misfortune

This week Bernard Darnton watches telly and gets dumber, both from the news and from the ads.

BernardDarntonSquealing aside, big bossy government was still the winner on the day.

I cheered when I heard the beginning of a beat-up story on One News on Tuesday night claiming that the road safety budget has been “slashed.” My hopes of a bigger tax cut and relief from the nagging were dashed when some actual facts accidentally crept into the piece.

TVNZ was probably right to be concerned about any reduction because most of the road safety budget seems to have very little to do with road safety and quite a lot to do with laundering part of the tax grab through TVNZ's advertising department.

A vast amount of the “road safety” spend is wasted. A whole lot of it is spent propagating lies.

Take the ad alerting us to the danger of intersections. Eerie fairground music plays while a funereal attendant spins a wheel of fortune as motorists pass through an intersection. Your options are “Near Miss”, “Minor Crash”, “Major Crash”, and “Death.”

Let's assume as fact that some people die in crashes at intersections. What are the odds? The wheel in the ad implies that your risk of death is one in four. Even allowing for a bit of artistic licence, that seems a bit high.

Let's come up with a more realistic (but obviously still made up) number. Say that on any one day half the population drives somewhere. And say that each day you drive you go through, I dunno, 50 intersections. (Make it 20 or 500 and redo the maths – it doesn't make much difference.) And then say that every single road death in New Zealand is caused by a “bad call” at an intersection – just to really overestimate. You get one death per hundred million intersection traversals.

To say that the ad overstates the risk is to understate the degree of overstatement. It's like saying that Stalin was a bit of a scallywag or that creationists sometimes get their dates mixed up.

A wheel of fortune that showed the actual risk at an intersection would have “Death” written on it in very small writing. Writing so tiny it'd be no point. With the odds above, a wheel of fortune the size of the Earth would have a “Death” segment four millimetres wide at the edge. You're more likely to die of exasperation from being subjected to this woeful innumeracy.

Unfortunately, after all the wailing, the punch line is the government will still spend about $820 per family over the next three years ($40 less than Labour's plan) nagging you about your driving and getting in the way of innocent motorists, setting up roadblocks at three o'clock on Tuesday afternoons to meet the breath-testing quota without the inconvenient paperwork that comes from actually arresting people.

Perhaps the road safety savings can be made because there are fewer drunk drivers in the new cabinet than the old. Perhaps there are no plans for speeding motorcades. But it's early days. When the current lot revert to type and start abusing their power, I hope to see Judith Collins supervising the crushing of a few ministerial limos.

* * Read Bernard Darnton’s NOT PJ column every Thursday here at NOT PC * *


  1. While I agree about the probabilities (ie death is rather unlikely), it is important to note that most people when they approach intersections actually pay attention to what is going on with other traffic.

    Most of the point of that ad seems to me to be the situations where people just go without checking. Which is much more of a Russian roulette situation. So nice straw man Bernie.

  2. ?
    mc2<0, the point of the post is that a lot of your money is being taken out of your wallet and made into ineffectual (and incorrect) advertising.

    If you are anything like me, you will spend the ad-break moving laundry from the washing machine to the dryer, stacking the dishwasher, or having a wee.

    Have you seen the ad extolling the virtues of electronic stability control? Have you gone out and purchased a new car as a result, ensuring it had side curtain airbags and electronic stability control?

  3. I agree with the point of the post, and I do try to make use of the ads for productive purposes, but the point can be made with out being intellectually dishonest by attacking a straw man.

    And yes I hate the electronic stability ad, it does nothing at all to prove the argument it is putting forward


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