Petty Controversy

Petty controversy: Is Michelle Obama killing pedestrians?

A safety organization implied that the first lady's anti-obesity message could be responsible for an uptick in traffic deaths. Just how tenuous is this connection?

The controversy: A spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), a non-profit group, told a Washington radio station Thursday that a recent rise in pedestrian deaths may be connected to Michelle Obama's fitness initatives, which she has championed as first lady. Explaining the extremely slight increase in pedestrian fatalities — 1,891 people were killed by cars in the first half of 2010, seven more than in the same period the year before — Jonathan Adkins told an interviewer at WMAL that the Obama is "trying to get us to walk to work and exercise a little bit more. While that's good, it also increases our exposure to risk." Meanwhile, Barbara Harsha, the director of the organization, was quoted in The Washington Examiner saying that thanks to the first lady "there's an emphasis these days to getting fit, and I think people doing that are more exposed to risk."
The reaction:
The numbers don't prove anything, says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. Only seven more people were killed this year than last, and "an increase of 0.4% is, statistically speaking, noise": "It's a random variation that occurs in smaller data sets." Besides, says James Joyner at Outside the Beltway, "while I don’t pay much attention to the social campaigns of first ladies, I don't recall Mrs. Obama telling people that they should get drunk, strap on an iPod, and go wandering around the streets reading their BlackBerries." The GHSA's Harsha says she "was misquoted" by the Examiner. In fact, she says, "we in no way oppose Ms. Obama's program;" people should merely "walk in a safe manner" and "be aware of their surroundings."

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