Examples -how to apply the draft guidelines

The main draft guidelines can be found on our guidelines page. This page provides some examples of how following the guidelines could improve reporting and coverage around road collisions and road danger

This supplementary section of the draft guidelines is intended to help guide best practice by providing examples of what good reporting looks like for each of the guideline clauses, to illustrate the impact wording can have on perceptions of road collisions and suggest alternative ways of describing collisions and road users.

Guideline 1, Impartiality: Publishers must not use the term accident when describing road collisions – collision, or crash, are more accurate, especially when the facts of the incident are not known

Publishers should not use the term accident when describing road collisions – collision, or crash, are more accurate, especially when the facts of the incident are not known

As Chief Insp Rick Dowell, head of Dorset Police's road policing unit once said: "There are very few accidents which are true accidents"(1)

"All accidents involve some form of misjudgement, error or outright dangerous action by one or more drivers in a collision."

RoadPeace, the charity for victims of road traffic collisions, advises against the use of ‘accident’, as this risks implying crashes are unpreventable, while absolving bad driving, which is “upsetting for families and serves only to propagate the idea that road deaths are an acceptable pay-off for having roads”.

To avoid reinforcing and normalising the word’s use in society the charity recommends the media use ‘crash’ or ‘collision’, instead. RoadPeace produced guidance on this, as part of its #crashnotaccident campaign (2)

 

Guideline 2, Discrimination: Journalists should not use language that generalises one person’s behaviour as shared by a group of road users or suggest it is indicative of a perceived group’s character traits

 

One Australian study (3) found 31% of respondents viewed cyclists as less than human. The research also found that the dehumanisation of people who cycle is linked to self-reported aggression towards them: if you see a person as less than fully human, you are more likely to deliberately drive at them, block them with your vehicle or throw something at them, the study found.

For this reason, terms such as “lycra lout”, “zombie pedestrian”, etc should be avoided.

 

Language use can be more subtle and subconscious, and that used in describing ‘cyclists’ following the Charlie Alliston case, in which a fixed gear rider collided with Kim Briggs, who was crossing the road, has been compared in linguistic research with racist discourse, in seeking to group all cyclists together and suggest they be somehow “cancelled or controlled”(4). 

While such cases, whoever is driving, are egregious, it is important not to fall into prejudiced assessments of a perceived group. Holding debates or polls on whether ‘cyclists’ are annoying, should pay road tax, get off the roads, be licensed or their activities otherwise curtailed falls into this category and can risk the safety of vulnerable road users by encouraging drivers to think of them as an outgroup that shouldn’t be on the road.

 

Guideline 3, Accuracy: Coverage of perceived risks on the roads should be above all accurate, based in fact and context. Publishers should make mention of human actors in a collision, and avoid reference to personal protective equipment, such as hi-vis and helmets, except when demonstrably relevant

While car and driver are interchangeable grammatically, their use alters the meaning of a sentence from one in which a malfunctioning vehicle causes a collision, to a more accurate one in which a person is driving that vehicle. 

Examples of a news article in which ‘car’ can be replaced with driver. Our suggested alternatives are in square brackets. 

Example 1.

“A young woman was killed after being mown down by a car [driver] fleeing police, witnesses said today.”

“Witnesses said she was with her boyfriend and a friend when she was struck by the car [driver], which [who] failed to stop having been flagged down by officers.

“It is believed the car [driver] may have veered into the group as they waited to cross the road”

Example 2.

“A boy was seriously injured after being hit by a car [driver]”

“Emergency services were called… after reports of a collision involving a car and a pedestrian”

 

In the latter part of this sentence ‘car’ was left in place as, strictly speaking, it was the car that impacted with the boy, not the driver, who was sitting inside.

Good example, with some details removed:

A [job title of driver] broke a cyclist's neck and cheek when he knocked him over in his car at a roundabout.

[Named driver], [details of job] struck the victim with his Volvo in [town name]

The 38-year-old hadn't seen the cyclist when he pulled out at the roundabout and sent him flying to the ground, a court heard.

The male victim was left unconscious and was taken to hospital, where it was found he'd suffered a fractured neck, cheek and cuts and bruises.

This article starts with the driver, who hit a man cycling after pulling out at a roundabout junction, having not apparently seen the man - as well as the extent of the resulting injuries. The author makes clear it was the driver who hit someone with their car, rather than the car ‘running out of control’, and later quotes a witness who suggests the driver did not look for or did not see the man cycling before pulling out. This depicts a situation in which a driver who, while not accused of driving dangerously, nonetheless failed to see someone cycling, with severe implications for the cyclist. This is a report from a court hearing and while in the aftermath of a collision this level of detail is often not available, the wording is a good example of reporting that focuses on the people in the collision, and the human impact of that collision, not the vehicles.

 

Most media coverage of cycling in the UK, 61%(5), has a broadly negative sentiment, focusing on criminality and safety, with perceptions of “cyclists” themselves even more negative.

Employ critical thinking and consider the impact of running articles, or the findings of polls, that portray distorted and potentially harmful views of road users. The following piece ran in national papers, based on a survey conducted by a now defunct company with a history of producing sensationalist findings across a range of topics, alongside discount codes for related goods.

“Cyclists should have to take a test to ride on the road according to the majority of British car drivers who took part in a survey.

“Three out of four motorists called for cyclists to be licenced to help put an end to Lycra louts, with one in three saying they had experienced road rage from someone on a bike.

“The solution to the problem, according to 73 per cent of the motorists involved in the poll, is for cyclists to be made to take a test to ride on the road.

 

“While just under half of the respondents said cyclists should be confined to the pavement to help put an end to the issue.”

 

Cycling and walking are healthy, cheap and environmentally friendly, with risk of injury low and with significant health benefits. Cyclists pose a small risk to themselves, and even less to others on the roads. Confining cycles to pavements would be detrimental to both cyclists and pedestrians, and such measures could reduce cycling levels. This type of story encourages a potentially harmful viewpoint of legitimate road users, the 'findings' are not among those that would improve road safety and such suggestions should be avoided.

Similarly, the following story takes a single incident in which a pedestrian was injured when stepping out in front of a cyclist while on a mobile phone, and links to government data, both in terms of a growth in pedestrian-cyclist collisions, and in terms of mobile phone use being implicated, based in conjecture rather than data. 

“The number of pedestrians killed or seriously injured by cyclists is soaring – and mobile phones are being blamed.

“Smartphone zombies” who fail to look before crossing the road are believed to be responsible for a surge in accidents.

“Sixteen pedestrians have been killed in crashes with cyclists and another 590 seriously injured in the past five years.

“Government data, which does not state who is at fault, shows one pedestrian was killed in a crash with a bike last year and another 144 were badly hurt – an increase of 35 in the past five years.”

The piece does not offer any evidence mobile phone use by pedestrians is to blame, and the data doesn’t support this link. 

Among the most common collision types are those in which drivers do not fail to see, but fail to look for a cyclist, such as when opening a car door, or pulling out in front of a cyclist – when a cyclist is large and visible (6)

Similarly with hi-vis, the evidence of its efficacy is limited. One seminal study on hi-vis and cycling found no matter what a person cycling wore, 1-2% of drivers passed dangerously close to overtake. Researchers concluded focusing on cyclists to protect themselves from drivers by wearing bright clothes, wouldn’t protect them from poor driving, and a focus on driver behaviour and awareness would be more effective (7) In some cases dark clothing can help make a cyclist more visible (8).

 

Guideline 4, Reporting on crime: Publishers must not portray dangerous behaviour on the roads, such as speeding, as acceptable, or those caught breaking the law as victims

Speeding is implicated in at least 20% of collisions, killing and permanently altering hundreds of lives each year in the UK - a figure that could be much higher. Publishers must not depict attempts to prevent illegal speeding and catch lawbreaking drivers as somehow unfair or unsafe.

The following article wrongly depicts speed cameras as dangerous, placing the opinions of drivers who choose to speed, and claim they cannot both drive and look at their speedometers, above the comments of roads police, whose attempts to rebut claims of ‘panic braking’ are left to the end of the article. The piece also quotes a number of drivers who admit to speeding on this stretch of road. This narrative, including the phrase “straying over the 50mph limit”, normalises speeding and should be avoided at all times.

“Drivers have hit out at 'cash cow' average speed cameras after they were installed on [named road].

“Anyone straying over the 50mph limit on the [named road] will now risk a fine.

“They have been brought in by Highways England after the dual carriageway saw one fatal crash, six serious collisions and 52 smashes with minor injuries since 2017.”

“But motorists who regularly use the five-mile stretch fear the new technology will do little to improve safety.

“They believe distracted drivers will be too busy monitoring theirs [sic] speedometers and 'panic-braking' to properly pay attention to the road conditions.”

This narrative absolves speeding drivers from their actions, portraying such actions as inescapable, and risks normalising such behaviour. This feeds into the sentencing of drivers by juries and magistrates. According to one source more than 250,000 drivers have multiple speeding offences on their licence, and around 9,350 drivers on UK roads have 12 or more penalty points, yet by claiming ‘exceptional hardship’ avoid an automatic ban and keep their driving licences.

Research has found a link between reporting of road collisions and people’s support for stronger or weaker sentencing of drivers - and is arguably reflected in the sentencing of even very dangerous driving.

In one extreme example of speeding, a driver caught by police driving at 134mph in a 40mph zone - 94mph over the speed limit - in March 2020 was sentenced to just six months’ driving ban and £382 fines and costs - the maximum ban under current sentencing guidelines, according to the then head of Vision Zero in London, Supt Andy Cox. 

Road safety experts are unanimous in a belief speeding is not taken seriously enough by the media and the general public. Roads police experts say many drivers believe themselves to be “safe drivers”, which means they can speed a little without consequence - which sadly isn’t true. 

1: https://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/1168318.drive-for-safer-roads/

2: https://www.roadpeace.org/download/crash-not-accident-campaign-pack-2019/

3: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1369847818308593?via%3Dihub

4:  from Caimotto, 2020 https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783030440251

5: https://www.sustrans.org.uk/our-blog/research/all-themes/all/active-travel-in-the-media-exploring-representations-of-walking-and-cycling-in-uk-and-scottish-online-news

6: 

https://www.cyclingweekly.com/news/latest-news/what-is-the-evidence-that-wearing-hi-vis-clothing-makes-you-a-safer-cyclist-358674#:~:text=It's%20not%20quite%20that%20simple,little%20difference%20in%20darker%20conditions

7: https://www.bath.ac.uk/announcements/cyclists-cannot-stop-drivers-overtaking-dangerously-research-study-suggests/

8:  https://road.cc/content/news/256693-police-say-dark-clothes-killed-cyclist-could-have-made-him-more-detectable