When talking about crashes, remember that people are involved.

When talking about crashes, remember that people are involved.

Language matters when talking about crashes.

A recent study shared at the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Conference titled “Editorial Patterns in Bicyclist and Pedestrian Crash Reporting” examined ways that media coverage of crashes could influence public perception, looking at word choice and agency. (Read the 2 page summary handout or the full paper.)

Screenshot from 2-page handout, adapted from Ralph, K. M., Iacobucci, E., Thigpen, C., & Goddard, T. (2019). Editorial Patterns in Bicyclist and Pedestrian Crash Reporting. Presented at the Transportation Research Board 97th Annual Meeting, Washington, DC. TRB Paper No. 19-03892

An example from a crash in Boston:

You wouldn’t know someone was driving this truck by the initial news report, since “a city-owned truck struck a pedestrian.” We reached out to the reporter and station on Twitter, and asked them to clarify that a person driving was behind the wheel in this crash.

7News was responsive, & made changes to the story:

Thank you to all the reporters and news organizations that are willing to take a look at how they are presenting crashes.

Local reporting helps shine a light on common-sense ways we can make our streets safer for people: fixing the way our roads are designed. Tens of thousands of Americans die in car crashes each year (both in and outside the vehicle), with roughly 350 fatal crashes in Massachusetts alone. There are many thousands more incapacitating injuries. We need to reduce illegal speeding to help prevent and/or reduce the severity of these crashes. Road design influences behavior!

Are you a reporter covering traffic crashes or a dangerous intersection? Please reach out to WalkBoston if you need a comment about safety issues, or if you are looking for recommendations about public health or road design questions. If we don’t have the answer, we’re happy to be a resource and point you in the right direction.

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