Road Collision Reporting Guidelines Issued

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Following consultation across a range of media organisations and representatives, the Road Collision Reporting Guidelines, produced in collaboration with the University of Westminster’s Active Travel Academy, have been launched today.

The Guidelines seek to reframe the reporting of road collisions so that they align journalistic principles of accuracy, fairness, non-discrimination and justice. Concern has long been raised that reporting of collisions often makes it sound like the car was automated, with no driver at the wheel to take responsibility. With pedestrians and cyclists the more vulnerable road users, it’s considered important to ensure that drivers are seen to be in charge of the vehicle. In addition, collisions are often reported as ‘accidents’ before any investigation or judgement about the standard of driving can be determined. The new Guidelines seek to address these concerns.

While many journalists already follow good practice, there is always room for improvement.

This could mean describing all human actors in collisions neutrally, such as “driver and pedestrian in collision”, rather than, say, “pedestrian hit by car”, which research shows unintentionally shifts focus to the only named human actor, and implicitly attaches a degree of blame.

It could mean providing crucial context in coverage of road collisions, which research tells us is key in helping us understand wider issues and trends. By including local or national crash statistics, for example, publishers can avoid treating crashes as isolated incidents. Research suggests portraying crashes in that way blocks debate about possible wider causes, such as street design features that tend to put pedestrians at higher risk.

It could also mean avoiding use of the term ‘accident’, which risks making crashes seem inevitable and
unavoidable, or avoiding ‘grouping’ road users by negative characteristics, to protect those road users
from becoming targets of aggression.

Laura Laker, Report Author

The ten point guideline headings are as follows:

  1. At all times be accurate, say what you know and, importantly, what you don’t know.
  2. Avoid use of the word ‘accident’ until the facts of a collision are known.
  3. If you’re talking about a driver, say a driver, not their vehicle.
  4. Consider the impact on friends and relatives of publishing collision details.
  5. Treat publication of photos with caution, including user generated footage or imagery.
  6. Be mindful if reporting on traffic delays not to overshadow the greater harm, of loss of life or serious
    injury, which could trivialise road death.
  7. Journalists should consider whether language used negatively generalises a person or their behaviour as part of a ‘group’.
  8. Coverage of perceived risks on the roads should be based in fact and in context.
  9. Avoid portraying law-breaking or highway code contravention as acceptable, or perpetrators as victims.
  10. Road safety professionals can help provide context, expertise, and advice on broader issues around
    road safety.

Examples of how these guidelines can be applied are given:

For more information about the Guidelines, the consultation process and its supporters, head to this website.

For more reading on this sort of thing, check out the works of Bez.

Your comments

Viewing 26 posts - 1 through 26 (of 26 total)
  • Road Collision Reporting Guidelines Issued
  • Premier Icon Hannah Dobson
    Full Member

    From the front page:

    Premier Icon footflaps
    Full Member

    Good idea, but I can’t see the tabloids following any of it as they thrive on controversy and ‘scum bag cyclist delays important car driver on way to work by being run over whilst not paying road tax’ appeals much more to their demographic.

    Premier Icon Martinhuutch
    Full Member

    It all sounds reasonable, but ‘hit by driver’ can also mean getting punched after a road rage incident. The central feature of the story is a large chunk of metal colliding with something more squishy.

    Premier Icon footflaps
    Full Member

    It all sounds reasonable, but ‘hit by driver’ can also mean getting punched after a road rage incident.

    You mean ‘selfish cyclist hurts driver’s hand by putting face in front of fist whilst not paying road tax’.

    Premier Icon greyspoke
    Free Member

    I was thinking along those lines @martinhutch. Replacing “car” with “driver” loses information – was it a van, car or bus? I think this is a bit more than pedantry, and possibly taking the need for brevity a bit too far.

    Personally I dont think it makes any difference to my perception of a report either way. But I am open to being persuaded that it does for some people, though it would be nice to see the evidence for it.

    Ironically, sloppy language of the type the guidelines seek to address is evident in the RCRG website. Just to say “produced in collaboration with” sidelines the issue of agency – who was involved in the collision, who actually produced (in the sense of had final editorial control of) the guidelines. It is clear that actually the guidelines are produced by the Active Travel Academy in collaboration with loads of other people.

    Similarly the guidelines website is coy about who is behind it. No legal person responsible for the site is listed under “Contact”. You need to do a Google search (or have read the STW article) to know that the Active Travel Academy (which is mentioned) is part of the University of Westminster, or to click on the little bird, which takes you to the twitter feed which is clearly associated with the University and gives the name of the Director. Surely if you want something to be taken seriously you need to be more up-front about who you are and your credentials for being taken seriously?

    Premier Icon Superficial
    Free Member

    It all sounds reasonable, but ‘hit by driver’ can also mean getting punched after a road rage incident. The central feature of the story is a large chunk of metal colliding with something more squishy.

    Yeah, some of their examples don’t sound right – ‘A driver hit a woman who was crossing the road’ sounds like someone got out of their car and punched someone. Perhaps that’s an example of my own subconscious bias from having read these stories over the years. I’d have thought calling someone a ‘car driver’ (rather than just ‘driver’) emphasises the fact that the car was involved.

    Whatever, I certainly support the idea behind these proposals.

    Premier Icon chris
    Free Member

    Did I miss the bit about how they are going to enforce this or is it just another pointless exercise?

    Premier Icon reluctantjumper
    Full Member

    It’s guidelines, there’s no real method for enforcing them. They have the right intention but will most likely make sod-all difference.

    Premier Icon chakaping
    Full Member

    Did I miss the bit about how they are going to enforce this or is it just another pointless exercise?

    Erm, neither.

    Most media have been using “collision” rather than “accident” for years now, but it’s still useful to remind editors why – along with the other ideas here.

    It all sounds reasonable, but ‘hit by driver’ can also mean getting punched after a road rage incident.

    This is a valid point, but I think readers will get used to the change and editors can just say “attacked” or “punched” by driver if it’s actually fisticuffs.

    Premier Icon nickliv
    Full Member

    I think we should perhaps also try to move from using ‘cyclist’ to ‘person riding a bicycle’ when reporting collisions etc, as the term ‘cyclist’ whilst accurate and correct, brings with it a level of dehumanisation, which isn’t helpful in reminding readers that the squishy thing that got squished was supposed to be making the kids tea tonight.

    Premier Icon imnotverygood
    Full Member

    Hmmm. If we are talking about misleading headlines..
    To me ‘Guidelines being issued’ implies an authoratitive body issuing advice to entities it has a form of control over. Whereas this seems to be a campaigning group pushing an agenda.
    As a matter of fact I do think there is an inherent bias in reporting, but these ‘guidelines’ really aren’t going to change anything.

    Premier Icon stumpyjon
    Full Member

    I think we should perhaps also try to move from using ‘cyclist’ to ‘person riding a bicycle’

    I quite like that idea for a different reason, say cyclist and Joe Public thinks lycra and serious cyclist, more often or not the cyclist in the collision is in reality just a person a bike which can be quite different from a regular cyclist. To class someone who cycles regularly, obeys the rules and does bother to have a road worthy and legal bike, as some oik wheelieing down the pavement sans helmet seems a tad unfair.

    Premier Icon chakaping
    Full Member

    I think we should perhaps also try to move from using ‘cyclist’ to ‘person riding a bicycle’ when reporting collisions etc, as the term ‘cyclist’ whilst accurate and correct, brings with it a level of dehumanisation

    I’d probably agree with this, though I’d accept mixing both terms of reference in one article – which is handy from the writer’s POV anyway.

    these ‘guidelines’ really aren’t going to change anything.

    As quite an experienced former news reporter & editor, I’d predict that this could have a bit of an effect. People are commenting above “tabloids will just carry on hating cyclists”, but the big majority of journalists don’t work for the tabloids and do actually care about getting things right.

    Premier Icon DezB
    Full Member

    I can’t see that this really addresses the problems we see as “people on bikes”.

    First example: Two people have been injured after a collion/crash whatever.. if that’s all that is known it shouldn’t be reported until more facts have been established. It’s hardly ever a pedestrian “in a collision” and far more often a pedestrian has been run over.

    2nd last one… “A driver hit a female pedestrian who was crossing the road WITH HIS CAR.”

    Still, it’s some progress I suppose.

    Premier Icon imnotverygood
    Full Member

    People are commenting above “tabloids will just carry on hating cyclists”, but the big majority of journalists don’t work for the tabloids and do actually care about getting things right.

    Except that I don’t see how this is anything but a self appointed group attempting to push its views. I appreciate what they are trying to do, but reading their website there just seems to be a lot of PR fluff. Who asked them to carry out this work & why should anybody take notice of it? They say they have ‘consulted’, but what form did this consultation really take? I don’t get any sense that this gives the guidelines any meaningful sense of authority or credibility. The STW massive could produce guidelines, but who is goimg to pay attention to them?

    Premier Icon imnotverygood
    Full Member

    2nd last one… “A driver hit a female pedestrian who was crossing the road WITH HIS CAR.”

    He was crossing the road with his car?

    Premier Icon footflaps
    Full Member

    but the big majority of journalists don’t work for the tabloids and do actually care about getting things right.

    However, the few working for the Mail / Sun / Express have millions of readers so have far more influence than the rest of them put together.

    Premier Icon keithb
    Full Member

    The guidelines aren’t great, are they? The third example specifically refers to a BMW/BMW driver, but none of the others reference a specific car make. Thus continuing the portrayal of BMW drivers as selfish, thoughtless, inconsiderate drivers…
    So in its own examples of not perpetuating stereotypes, it perpetuates a stereotype.

    Premier Icon chakaping
    Full Member

    However, the few working for the Mail / Sun / Express have millions of readers so have far more influence than the rest of them put together.

    Got any figures for that?

    Premier Icon chakaping
    Full Member

    Thus continuing the portrayal of BMW drivers as selfish, thoughtless, inconsiderate drivers…

    I agree, very outdated. But I think most people realise that arsehole BMW drivers moved on to Audis for a bit before getting Range Rovers.

    Premier Icon eskay
    Full Member

    keithb
    Full Member
    The guidelines aren’t great, are they? The third example specifically refers to a BMW/BMW driver, but none of the others reference a specific car make

    Audis are quite righty mentioned as well 😉

    Premier Icon Martinhuutch
    Full Member

    I’d predict that this could have a bit of an effect.

    It would barely register in most of the local newsrooms I’ve worked in. They will always go for Horror Smash over Traffic Collision. I suppose you might get a bit more lawyerly language further down the piece, but I can’t see all that many of them going to the effort to squeeze those into headlines or copy.

    Obviously, subs might have become more sensitive souls over the past couple of decades…

    A driver hit a female pedestrian who was crossing the road WITH HIS CAR.

    She shouldn’t have tried to run off with his car, should she? Had it coming. 🙂

    I suppose ‘A driver collided with a pedestrian’ is better for sense, just about, but the need to shoehorn ‘with his car’ everywhere would get old pretty quickly.

    As for ‘person on bicycle’ because ‘cyclist’ is dehumanising, obviously the same applies to all these drivers. So a ‘person driving a car collided with a person on a bicycle’.

    Premier Icon singletrackmind
    Full Member

    Did he pick up his car and swimg it, baseball bat style, at the lady crossing the road?
    Potato potato tjey both end up the same

    Premier Icon Steve
    Full Member

    However, the few working for the Mail / Sun / Express have millions of readers so have far more influence than the rest of them put together.

    Got any figures for that?

    Do you really need some to understand the point they were trying to make?

    Premier Icon PrinceJohn
    Free Member

    I think this story sums up why language is important and needs to be better.

    It sounds more like a storyboard for the next cars movie…

    http://e.cornwalllive.com/interface/external_view_email.php?RC~49osTd8OI/Q=

    Premier Icon Martinhuutch
    Full Member

    And anyway, Daily Mail sells approximately a million per day. Sun approximately the same. Express, thankfully is less at just over 300,000 per day.

    Here’s a table of regional print daily and weekly circulations.

    https://pressgazette.co.uk/regional-print-abcs-daily-circulation-down-average-18-per-cent-second-half-2020/

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