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Ask Marilyn: Is This a Fair Statistic?
Richard Zielinski of Salem, New Jersey, writes:
Marilyn: I have to take requalification tests regularly, and one question has been bugging me. The test area is "substance abuse," and one of the stats presented is this: "Substance abusers cause 50 percent of all vehicular accident deaths." My first thought was that this means non-substance abusers cause 50 percent of all vehicular accident deaths, too. Kind of a wash.
How could the point—that substance abusers cause accidents—be presented properly? Or is the data flawed? Can we make the claim that substance abusers causing half of the deaths is somehow worse than non-abusers causing the other half?
All we need to know is the percentage of the driving population who are substance abusers. Say it's 5 percent. If only 5 percent of the people are causing 50 percent of the vehicular accident deaths, that's a compelling statement about the societal effects of their substance abuse.