Misleading the Public About Traffic Safety 

 

State Law requires the Highway and Transportation Department's Traffic Safety Bureau to issue an annual report to the Governor about the activities of the Bureau and assistance to local organizations and officials.

The 2000 Annual Report is a prime example of a public responsibility gone horribly wrong, including:

  • false claims and statistics
  • misleading information
  • misrepresentations of progress
  • claiming others' achievements as their own

and omitting all the bad news, wherever it is less than a glowing reflection on Secretary Pete Rahn's programs.

 

In short, the Department has transformed a statutory responsibility to issue a responsible and informative statement of status and effort into a public relations Puff Piece.

And so, now... we Evaluate the Evaluation.

These few web pages to come present the Department's Annual Report to the Governor verbatim, but annotated to point out all the tricks being exercised to mislead readers, page by page.  Please take a little time to read through -- it's important!

Background

Section 66-7-506 NMSA 1978 of New Mexico State Law requires that the Traffic Safety Bureau produce an annual report as follows:

The bureau shall have the following powers and duties:

...
I. prepare and submit each year a written report to the governor concerning the activities of the bureau and activities concerning assistance to local organizations and officials;
...

Section 66-7-373 NMSA 1978 of New Mexico State Statutes states:

...
C. The traffic safety bureau of the state highway and transportation department shall evaluate the effectiveness of the Safety Belt Use Act and shall include a report of its findings in the annual evaluation report on its highway safety plan that it submits to the national highway traffic safety administration and the federal highway administration under 23 U.S.C. 402.
...

Title 23 Sec. 1200.33 of the Code of Federal Regulations requires an Annual report from the state to USDOT as a condition of receiving federal highway safety assistance funds.  It provides that:

Within 90 days after the end of the fiscal year, each State shall submit an Annual Report. This report shall describe: 
(a) The State's progress in meeting its highway safety goals, using performance measures identified in the Performance Plan. Both Baseline and most current level of performance under each measure will be given for each goal. 
(b) How the projects and activities funded during the fiscal year contributed to meeting the State's highway safety goals. Where data becomes available, a State should report progress from prior year projects that have contributed to meeting current State highway safety goals.

[62 FR 34402, June 26, 1997, as amended at 64 FR 40764, July 28, 1999]

For whatever reason, current Bureau management has chosen to submit a single document serving these multiple purposes.  For 2000, this is that document.  A lot of similar tricks were played in the 1999 Annual Report, as well.

The Department spent over $12,000 on a consultant who developed and printed this slick, glossy report.  

You can start by reading the Department's Introduction to the 2000 Annual Report if you want... but it doesn't say much.

Now, Starting at the Top...

NM 2000 Traffic Safety Annual Report page 1

Amorphous Umbrella Approach

No one quite knows what the umbrella approach means, and the report never quite says.  

Concealing Bad News

The Report claims "non-alcohol-involved fatalities for the first 10 months of the year are 15 percent lower than for the same period in 1999. That means 31 lives were saved."  The report does not mention that alcohol-involved fatalities for the same period rose 10% by the same calculation method, costing 16 lives. It does not mention that non-alcohol-involved fatalities are down only from their record high levels under the Johnson administration, and in fact are up 1 percent from 1996 (costing 1 life) and up 30% from their 1992 low (costing 43 lives).

Misleading Teen Statistics

The report says "teenage fatalities decreased 10 percent in the first eight months of this year" in a context that implies this is meaningful regarding the state's new graduated licensing program. But few if any of the drivers in those crashes would have been affected by the new program. In any case, the program if effective will have its impact on reducing victims in teen driver crashes, not on teenage victims of crashes involving non-teen drivers. In the eight months you cite, 23 teen drivers died in NM crashes, the highest number since 1991. The report does not mention that, either.

Calling Backwards Motion Progress

The Report claims as progress and a major accomplishment the state's seatbelt usage rate of 87%, not pointing out that this level is down from the level the Department reported for 1999.

Calling Old Programs New

The Report says "underage drinking prevention took center stage with the first statewide conference, law enforcement initiatives, and public information and education efforts."   This is simply not true, as you shall see as the review progresses.

Misrepresenting Traffic Enforcement Efforts

The Report claims expansion of Operation DWI and Operation Buckle Down, not mentioning that in 2000 the Department cut the programs' blitzes from twelve to four per year, DWI arrests fell to their lowest level since 1989, safety belt use went down rather than up, and alcohol-related crash deaths rose 10 percent for the ten-month period cited.

Calling Old-Hat Media Programs New

The Report claims "the first-ever statewide media campaign was created", targeting speed, underage drinking, DWI, and occupant protection.  That's not true; the Department has sponsored and co-sponsored such campaigns routinely for many years.

Leaving Out Required Parts of the Report

Misleading the Public About Goals and Progress

The Report claims the Bureau's measurements made progress toward its goals.  But it conceals the fact that it presents 2001 goals (quietly weakened from prior ones in September 2000), rather than the ones the Department set for itself in 2000 in September 1999.  Turn to the Next Page and see for yourself...   

 

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Produced by the New Mexico DWI Resource Center.  Last updated 01/13/01