October 15, 2015 Kelley Styring

Sex in the Car: Correlation or Causation?

Credit: Photospin.com/DesignPics
Credit: Photospin.com/DesignPics

Credit: Photospin.com/DesignPics

A few years ago, I did a study of what people carry in their automobiles and why. I also asked participants about the activities that took place in the car, and found out 68% had had sex at least once in a car.

Now, looking at all the data I collected, there is a high correlation between a person having had sex at least once in a car and their propensity to have had a traffic accident at some point. This is a fallacy of course, because it’s an error of correlation and causation.

Think of it this way: The number of school teachers in any given county is highly correlated to the amount of liquor consumed in that county. But it’s not because the teachers are all heavy drinkers. It’s because counties with more people have more teachers, so there are more people to consume more liquor. The numbers correlate in a meaningless way.

The same can be said for the correlation between having had sex in a car and traffic accidents. The key words here are “traffic accidents,” not accidents of another nature (and, we’re not counting the time one person’s sweaty butt attached itself to a frozen hatch window in a private-parking-lot-moment in the dead of winter.) No, the sex and accidents correlation is strong, but it’s not causal per se.

On the other hand, what we do know from the study is that while people who have had sex in a car do not like their car any better than people who have not, they do enjoy driving significantly more. They also spend more time in their car, carry more items with them, and interestingly, have a tendency to have other people with them in the car more often than others, which eased my mind about what they’re actually doing.

So, when you’re looking for causes, don’t get caught making bad decisions because of correlations in your data.

And for the record, a full 4% of people preferred “not to answer” the sex questions. Hmmm. . . makes you wonder what they were doing.

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