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Use ‘drivers’ not ‘cars’ when covering road crashes, journalists urged

Rachel AldredJournalists have been urged to reference “drivers” being involved in road collisions rather than their vehicles in new guidance produced for those covering such incidents.

The University of Westminster’s Active Travel Academy has produced the guidelines for journalists in a bid to spread “good practice” on the reporting of road collisions.

HTFP reported last year how the ATA had called on journalists to avoid using the term “road accidents” in their coverage while drawing up the now finalised guidelines.

The published guidance now also encourages to “describe human actors” involved in collisions before mentioning vehicles.

It states: “If you’re talking about a driver, say a driver, not their vehicle. This is particularly important when describing actions such as speeding, or leaving the scene of a crash.

“If little is known in the aftermath of a crash, initially describe human actors as e.g., ‘driver and cyclist in collision’ or ‘two drivers in collision’, before mentioning vehicles.

“Where details of the crash are known, or one human actor is clearly particularly vulnerable (or slow-moving), such as pedestrians or children, publishers may find it more accurate to say one person ‘hit’ the other, e.g., ‘driver hit a child in a pushchair’, or ‘driver hit a man crossing the road’.”

Other guidelines include:

  • Be accurate, say what you know and, importantly, what you don’t know.
  • Avoid use of the word ‘accident’ until the facts of a collision are known.
  • Consider the impact on friends and relatives of publishing collision details.
  • Treat publication of photos with caution, including user generated footage or imagery.
  • 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
  • Avoid portraying law-breaking or highway code contravention as acceptable, or perpetrators as victims.

Professor Rachel Aldred, pictured, director of the Active Travel Academy, said: “The Active Travel Academy is delighted to have developed these guidelines which are based on research and expert input.

“We know much good road collision reporting already exists and we hope that the guidelines will help spread this good practice.

“The research tells us that language matters, as it helps shape how we see and treat others.

“So for instance referring to drivers rather than only their vehicles helps remind us that behind every vehicle – be it a car, an HGV, a cycle or a motorcycle – is a person making decisions that affect the safety of others.”

The full guidelines can be found here.