The Columbia Journalism Review report explains how the media (and thereby police) fail to properly cover traffic collisions.
“A middle-aged man was fatally struck by a truck.” If we read traffic crash reporting articles more critically, we can see a pattern. The report avoids naming the driver of the vehicle, or may not refer to any driver at all. Very often the incident is described in terms that presuppose innocence on the part of the driver, with built-in excuses such as, “it was dark and the pedestrian was not wearing reflective clothing.” This contributes to the worsening problem of traffic injuries and fatalities, and car culture: that roads were designed for and belong to cars.
When covering car crashes, be careful not to blame the victim
By Meg Dalton, APRIL 4, 2018
“She ran into traffic. He was wearing dark clothing. They didn’t use the crosswalk. In the aftermath of crashes between drivers and vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists, there’s a tendency to blame the victim. It’s just one way the media fails to properly cover traffic collisions, according to a new report from MacEwan University”
Neglecting to name a driver of a vehicle, or to describe an incident with details of negligence on the part of the victim perpetuates car culture, and the increasing numbers of traffic injuries and deaths of the most vulnerable road users.
Language and Perception matters. What are crash report articles really saying?
“Inclusion or exclusion of an agent affects perception of
blame. Sentences with agents make the actions of the
perpetrator clear and reduce victim blaming.”
“Around one fifth of the 37,000 annual traffic deaths in the United States are
bicyclists or pedestrians. Despite this figure, there is little public outcry about
these vulnerable road user (VRU) deaths. Media coverage has been shown to shape public perceptions in other fields, primarily by signaling which topics merit attention (agenda-setting) and by infuencing how those issues are
interpreted (framing). This study examines how local news outlets report car crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists.”
Yesterday a tweet from a local newspaper article described a traffic fatality saying “a man was killed when struck by a truck.” The victim was named, with lots of background information, but nothing about the driver of the truck. There is a distinct presumption of innocence. This is typical reporting of most traffic incidents. The victim may also be described as not wearing reflective clothing, not wearing a helmet, walking outside a crosswalk, “jaywalking” (Jaywalking was invented to make way for cars), not paying attention, or the worst excuses: “she came or of nowhere”, or “I didn’t see him”.
How Coverage of Pedestrian Fatalities Dehumanizes Victims and Absolves Drivers
By Angie Schmitt
A pedestrian rule breaker crossing outside of an intersection.
The passive voice “conveys subtle messages about blame and responsibility,” writes Magusin, “distancing the driver from the act.” And that affects the way people perceive events and assign culpability.