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Celebu-Economist: Drunk Driving Safer Than “Drunk Walking”

(Local note: our friend Josef Bray-Ali published his own rebuttal to the Freakonomics article at Flying Pigeon L.A.)

Did you know it's safer to drive in the United States than to walk?

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Yep. We've built a transportation system that so privileges motorists, is so blind to the needs of those who try to get around any other way, that pedestrians make up 11 percent of trips, but 12 percent of fatalities (traffic engineers, take a bow).

Enter Steven Levitt of Freakonomics. In a recent radio program, the provocateur economist presented his finding that "walking drunk" is eight times more dangerous than driving drunk. Which led him to conclude: "Truly, if you're faced exactly with two choices, walking drunk or driving drunk, you absolutely should drive drunk."

Levitt's statement was obviously intended to shock. Hence the "don't drink and drive" disclaimer from co-author Stephen Dubner. More shocking than the cavalier sensationalism of Freakonomics, though, are the everyday perils faced by pedestrians, regardless of alcohol intake. Katie at Network blog Where the Sidewalk Starts explains:

We know that in terms of deaths per trip, pedestrians are over-represented when compared to drivers or vehicle passengers. However, even though our Freakonomics friends threw out some assumptions about total miles walked in the US, we don't have great data on overall exposure to walking dangers (e.g. how do you count all those crashes that happen in parking lots?). Thus, contrary to what Levitt and company suggest, it's hard to actually know how dangerous walking is on a per-mile basis.

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