If It Bleeds, It Leads:

A USA Today headline: "Drunken driving deaths up in 22 states."

The story below the headline:

Drunken driving fatalities increased in 22 states in 2006 and fell in 28 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, federal transportation officials said Monday.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released data showing there were 13,470 deaths in 2006 involving drivers and motorcycle operators with blood alcohol levels of .08 or higher, which is the legal limit for adults throughout the country. The number was down slightly from 2005, when 13,582 people died in crashes involving legally drunk drivers.

So the number is virtually identical to what it was last year (the difference is less than 1%). It's a tiny bit lower. But the headline stresses the bad news, of course.

Thanks to Radley Balko's The Agitator and InstaPundit for the pointer. Note, though, that they also don't seem quite on target in saying (or quoting),

Incidentally, if you adjust for only those accidents where a clearly drunk driver caused the death of someone else, the real number has traditionally been about a fourth of what NHTSA reports. So figure the real number of drunk driving deaths to be around 3,000.

I agree that killings of innocent bystanders are morally different than self-inflicted deaths of those who are themselves drunk. But deaths are generally still tragic (even if somewhat less tragic or differently tragic). And in any event, they surely are "real" "drunk driving deaths."

UPDATE: Glen Whitman (Agoraphilia) points out flaws with the study's statistics, most significantly that (1) "all statistics of this nature are based on the underlying assumption that alcohol was the cause of every accident in which one of the drivers had alcohol in his system --- whether or not that driver was deemed at fault," and that (2) the government is stressing a tiny increase in the number of fatalities in which any driver had alcohol, even though the rate of such fatalities per capita (the more meaningful number) has likely slightly declined. I certainly agree that we should view such statistics (from both sides) skeptically, and with an eye towards their limitations and the unwarranted spin that's put on them.