Victim Blaming in Crash Reporting: What It Is and How To Stop It

The World Health Organization characterizes traffic deaths as a “preventable health epidemic”. Yet, this issue has not generated a widespread, longstanding call to action. Why not? The field of media studies offers potential insights. News coverage is known to shape public opinion by framing issues for the public and via sentence‐level editorial choices.

Presented by: Association of Pedestrian & Bicycle Professionals (APBP)

Event Details

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July 15, 2020

Location: Online

03:00 PM to 04:00 PM (Pacific Time) {more time zones}

04:00 PM to 05:00 PM (Mountain Time)
05:00 PM to 06:00 PM (Central Time)
06:00 PM to 07:00 PM (Eastern Time)

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With this in mind, we reviewed 200 local news articles and found that coverage tends to shift blame towards vulnerable road users and away from drivers. Worse still, crashes were almost always treated as isolated incidents, obscuring the public health nature of the problem. Next, we conducted an experiment to explore how these editorial choices affect readers. A thousand participants read one of three versions of a news article about a crash involving a pedestrian. Subjects were then asked to apportion blame, identify an appropriate punishment for the driver, and assess various approaches for improving road safety. In comparing the three groups, even relatively subtle differences in editorial patterns significantly affected readers’ interpretation of what happened and what to do about it. We close by offering advice to planners and advocates about how to engage the media to improve local coverage.




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