Drunk Walking, Halloween Edition

Photo: Tabbyn0ds

Freakonomics has reported at length on the human tendency to worry about rare problems. And perhaps because of this, we’ve  been in the vanguard of the campaign against drunk walking, which on a per-mile basis is, believe it or not, 8 times more likely to result in a death than drunk driving. (Please note: this is not an excuse to drive drunk; rather, it is a caution against thinking that walking drunk is safe.)

And so a recent article from Christopher Shea at the WSJ Ideas Blog caught our eye, because it so perfectly combines these two obsessions. Shea writes that a razor blade in an apple on Halloween is a myth, and has probably never happened. Pedestrian deaths, however, are four times higher on October 31 than an average day, because so many more people are wandering around outside. We at Freakonomics would like to add that some of those Halloween revelers (the adults at least) are also more likely to be inebriated, which no doubt explains some of the accidents. 

Happy November.

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  1. Ken Arromdee says:

    Drunk walking may be more likely to result in your death than drunk driving, but the big concern with drunk driving is the deaths of third parties. Drunk walking doesn’t lead to many deaths of third parties.

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  2. Jasper says:

    Despite meeting strangers wearing masks, Halloween is also the safest day of the year in terms of child molestation.

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  3. Austin says:

    “Pedestrian deaths, however, are four times higher on October 31st than an average day”
    It would also seem logical that the total number of Pedestrians is way higher than four times on Oct 31. as numerous Car slugs who would not otherwise walk trudge out of their homes for festivities.
    When one considers that isn’t a four times increased death rate some what low or at the very least expected?

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  4. Adam says:

    Yes, but a drunk walker is not 8 time more likely to kill someone else.

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  5. Tristan says:

    To the people making the argument: “Yes, but a drunk walker is not 8 time more likely to kill someone else.”

    I don’t think that this observation implies that drunk walking is better than drunk driving. Let’s make the large assumption that every drunk driving accident involves the death of one other person (unrealistically high, but we’ll assume it anyways). That means that the drunk driving statistic is underreported by half, or effectively double. But doesn’t this just mean that drunk walking kills quadruple the number of people rather than eight times? The substance of Dubner’s argument still stands.

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    • Owen says:

      This blog keeps harping on how drunk walking as if it is a big problem. The reality though is that a person’s death caused by his or her own choices is, at the very least, perceived to be less of a problem than if his or her death was caused by someone else. So while drunk walking may be more dangerous (although I doubt this to be true) it shouldn’t be stigmatized or punished in the same way drunk driving should.

      This blog continues to write continuously about how dangerous drunk walking is by comparing it to drunk driving. From my point of view, this does nothing but de-stigmatize drunk driving. It’s annoying and frustrating.

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  6. jonathan says:

    I agree because on halloween people think that they can get drunk at bars and start fighting and god forbid they pull out a gun and start fireing at people and not get in trouble

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  7. Eli says:

    This comparison of drunk driving and drunk walking fails to control for a wide range of characteristics. If nothing else, people walking home are probably far more drunk than the typical driver who went afoul of the .08 limit.
    And if drunk drivers were only a threat to themselves, we wouldn’t have such a strong campaign about it.

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  8. Aram says:

    This gives math a bad name. Please do not drive drunk because of this post!

    Here is a partial list of flaws in the argument:

    1. Drunk walkers may have different characteristics than non-drunk walkers, e.g. maybe some of them are mentally ill and homeless.
    2. Drunk walkers may be more drunk than drunk drivers.
    3. The dangers of the walk might not be proportional to the # of miles. Maybe the pedestrians who die aren’t walking a mile home alone from the bar (which I have done, and usually I find that the exercise and cold air wakes me up a bit), but are simply standing in a crowd on the sidewalk near the bar. These would enter the numerator, while the denominator is the ridiculously small amount of walking that happens in our car-based society.

    More on these lines from

    You’ll notice that argument was made on blogs and in their book, but not published in a place where other social scientists would have to agree with the reasoning. That’s because their point is *interesting*, but far too thinly evidenced to support over-confident claims like “drunk walking is 8 times more dangerous than drunk driving.”

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