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How AAA's Foundation For Traffic Safety Misused Otherwise Good Data

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We recently posted a note here on the site regarding a newly published study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which, in our opinion, grossly underestimated the role of cell phones in automobile accidents.

In Our Humble Opinion, the methodology of the study was flawed. If you didn't read our rant, here it is. We even suggested that you might want to drop the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety a note. Evidently some of you did--and they didn't like it at all.

Well, we got a nasty note from the director of research of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, one J. Scott Osberg, Ph.D.

We don't think it's fair to print his letter, since it was sent to us personally and there's no reason to publicly embarrass him. At least not more than is absolutely necessary. But we will give you the gist of what he said and why we still think he's got his head up his keister.

First, he accused us of writing the rant to "get a few laughs." Like people dying at the hands of cell phone drivers is funny? We don't think so. But the real purpose of his note--aside from his snide remarks and his suggestion that we were too stupid to understand complex research results--was to tell us that we "grossly misrepresented the study findings" and that we should issue a retraction. (Hey, what do we know? Only one of us has a Ph.D. in statistics.) He claims that the Foundation for Traffic Safety made it very clear that the study had serious limitations. He goes on to quote the description of the limitations.

Well, our pal Scott seems to be in a serious CYA mode.

Here's the truth: The description of the limitations of the study didn't sound familiar to us, so we went to their Web site. We read the news release of their study--the very news release that we presume went to the media, which printed it. Not a word about limitations.

It seems that Scott was quoting--not from the news release but from the testimony of Dr. Jane Stutts from the University of North Carolina, author of the study. She does indeed make it very clear that the study findings have serious limitations. The very same limitations that we cited--never having seen a copy of her testimony. How would we have seen it? How would YOU have seen it? How would the MEDIA have seen it? It was testimony to a congressional subcommittee. What the media saw was the news release sent out by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which made no mention of the limitations.

Retraction? By us? Surely you jest, Dr. Osberg.

We stand by our assertion that the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety obfuscated the truth about cell phones and other forms of driver distractions--and at a very crucial time. A time when dozens of states are considering cell-phone and driver-distraction legislation to ban cell phones while driving. Will all the legislators see the "limitations" statements made by Dr. Stutts?

Come on, Osberg, admit it. You guys made a mistake by sending out a news release that the cell phone lobbyists were dying to grab onto. Shame on the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

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