Marketplace’s Freakonomics Radio gets it wrong on “drunk walking” danger

This image, from Mikael Colleville-Andersen's Copenhagenize blog, encourages drivers not to kill or maim.

Cognitive dissonance seems to be the order of the day in America, or distraction. Or was it dissonance? What was I talking about?

Oh yeah, that horrible segment on Marketplace the other day, “The Perils of Drunk Walking: A New Marketplace Podcast“. The piece was originally published on Freakonomics Radio’s site as “Friends don’t let friends walk drunk“.

This Freakonomics Radio segment, put together by Stephen Dubner, describes the perils of driving drunk and, in a brilliant display of “ignoring of the bull in society’s China Shop“, goes on to state that walking while drunk is so dangerous that one should consider other options on New Years to get home (or wherever your evening might take you).

What is left after you’ve taken away the cars and our own two feet? The trains and buses, if they run at all in America, stop before the midnight hour in most places. I know what the stats for drunk bike riding look like (not pretty). Good luck hiring a taxi. So where does that leave us? Hoverboards? Rollerblades?

Exploratorium After Dark: Again & Again
Doesn’t look so bad, really. From the_exploratorium on Flickr.

Let’s unpack the “danger” of walking home drunk. How do you get injured walking home drunk? Is it by falling and hurting yourself? Okay, I can see that. How much does this affect the death rate every year? How many emergency room calls are generated on New Years for drunks walking into light posts, or falling on stairs, versus any other holiday in the U.S. like the Superbowl or Black Friday?

Where does this “danger” come from?

The Freakonomics dudes, and the authors of several other articles, cite a report by the journal Injury Prevention  which found that January 1 is the deadliest day for pedestrians. What does the study track?

“To summarize fatal motor vehicle crash deaths in the United States by time of day, day of week, month, and season, and to determine why some days of the year tend to experience a relatively high number of deaths.”

These aren’t deaths from walking in to light posts, or fighting with your dumb neighbor and losing on New Years – these are people that get run over by cars.

The booze isn’t killing people walking – the cars are! The cars are killing people on New Years – drunk or sober. Sure, if they are drunk they may be a little more blind to the dangers of these death traps – but the cars are doing the killing. The whole report this awful story is based on is how cars run over more people at New Years.

So, where does this leave us? If the producers and writers of these reports on the dangers of drunk walking have their way, I suppose more of us will just stay at home and continue on in our lives of quiet desperation waiting for the next season of The Walking Dead to come on, thanking our lucky stars that we’re not out there drunk-walking into an early grave.

If you, instead, choose to stop ignoring the bull smashing up society’s china, it will lead you here: maybe it is time we had more street closures on New Years Eve and New Years Day. Perhaps it is time to close more streets for holidays in general? Maybe driving a car on New Years will be like trying to drive during Carmaggedon, CicLAvia, the LA Marathon (link withheld to spite Frank McCourt), or any number of community parades, festivals, and farmer’s markets?

The real danger from drunk walking is that one is walking in “Mandatory Driving Land”, which, now that I think about it, ought to be our nation’s new motto (“E Pluribus Unum” is so 1776).

So, whip out those rollerblades and hoverboards! Too drunk to drive, too dangerous to walk – let’s get ‘er done America!

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One Comment

  1. Alexkenefick
    Posted December 29, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Permalink


2 Trackbacks

  1. By My favorite stories of 2011 | Gelatobaby on December 31, 2011 at 11:13 am

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