We all know why crashes occur in Portland. Drivers distracted by cellphones. Drivers under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Drivers speeding, weaving through traffic, tailgating, and attempting risky maneuvers. Some drivers even knowingly get behind the wheel when they are at risk of falling asleep.
These actions are not accidents. They are consequences of decisions some drivers make that often lead to serious and fatal crashes. When media outlets report crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists, the language often insinuates that driver error was only a factor to an extent, however.
In fact, some safety advocates blame subtle media reporting for the lack of public outcry. The term “accident” often mitigates the meaning of human error, and thus, contributes to a culture of inevitability rather than preventability.
A study IDs how media reporting shapes our driving culture
The concerns of safety advocates are reinforced in a 2019 study conducted by researchers at Rutgers University, Arizona State University, and Texas A&M University. The researchers collected more than 4,000 news articles pertaining to pedestrian and bicyclist crashes.
The study authors coined the term “vulnerable road users” (VRUs) in regard to pedestrians and bicyclists. The purpose of the study was to identify how language can subtly apportion fault in crashes and convey them as either preventable or inevitable.
After analyzing 200 news articles, the term “accident” was found in:
- 47 percent of body text sentences
- 11 percent of titles
Most titles were found to use sentence types such as “a VRU was hit by a car” or just “a VRU was hit.” The most common body text sentence types identified in the study include: “a VRU was hit by a car,” “a VRU was hit,” and “a car hit a VRU.”
Sentence types such as “a driver hit a VRU” or “a VRU was hit by a driver” were seldom used. Researchers also found that poorly designed road infrastructure was rarely cited when reporting crashes involving VRUs.
A shift in reporting crashes
In order to better address VRU crashes as a public safety issue, the study authors have urged journalists to take a slightly different approach to reporting crashes.
“Coverage almost always treats crashes as isolated incidents, obscuring the public health nature of the problem. This pattern of coverage likely contributes to the limited public outcry about pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities,” said the study. “Journalists can counteract these patterns by subtly altering their coverage. Planners can assist these efforts by making their expertise readily available to journalists. These simple changes would help the public identify links between seemingly isolated events and increase public pressure to reduce road deaths.”
Our driving culture needs an overhaul. Drivers who knowingly endanger other road users should be held accountable when they cause someone’s injury or death. That’s why for more than three decades, the Portland attorneys at Zbinden & Curtis have devoted themselves to helping injured pedestrians and bicyclists pursue justice.
If you were hurt in a crash with a negligent driver, you may be entitled to compensation. To learn how, contact us online and schedule your free case evaluation today.