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New media guidelines could make UK roads safer

Updated: May 24, 2021

We are delighted to finally launch the UK’s first media reporting guidelines for road collisions today (18 May 2021) during UN Global Road Safety Week 2021. We hope the Guidelines will help reinforce existing codes of conduct for the highest standards of reporting in broadcasting, online and in print.

Every 20 minutes someone is killed or seriously injured on UK roads, events that change lives forever – and despite decades of research showing most collisions are preventable by tackling speeding, distracted driving and drink and drug driving, road danger is too often seen as inevitable, and action on it too little too late.

Media has a powerful role to play in shaping public discourse, and our public consultation on draft Guidelines in Autumn 2020 received almost 200 respondents from members of the public, road safety organisations, media, legal, and policing professions, 72% of whom agreed with the Guidelines’ principles, with a further 21% supporting its aims. The consultation report is also published on this website today, with analysis and examples of responses from the public consultation, and outlining how the draft Guidelines were adapted to feedback. References, in a separate document, list research and thinking behind clauses, where relevant.

The resulting ten Guidelines are supported by prominent road safety and road user organisations and professionals, including the AA, the FIA Foundation, RoadPeace, the Transport Research Laboratory, and Transport for London, British Cycling, Cycling UK and Living Streets.

Professor Rachel Aldred, Director, 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 ten clauses speak to core journalistic principles of accuracy, fairness, non-discrimination and justice. Clauses recommend journalists, among other things, avoid use of the term ‘accident’, say ‘driver’ instead of ‘car’, and provide context to road collisions, rather than presenting them as isolated incidents. The Guidelines also offer journalists some contacts in road safety, policing and law.

Edmund King, AA president, said: “The impact of five deaths per day across UK roads sadly tends to get diluted. Imagine the outcry if a report stated that all passengers in 56 full coaches had died. That is the annual equivalent of five people dying each day. There would be a national outcry, public inquiries, prime ministerial statements and action taken. Each death on the roads is a personal tragedy irrespective of mode of transport. Hence it is important that all road users are treated equally in the reporting of collisions.”

Guidelines already exist to help journalists report on suicides, domestic violence and refugees, allowing expertise and research to help inform a fair, accurate and balanced public debate on those topics.

We hope the Road Collision Reporting Guidelines (RCRG) will do the same for road collisions, representing an industry standard by consensus that will continue to improve over time.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “Members of the NUJ ethics council have been involved in the creation of these new guidelines and have supported the project from its inception. We hope the information can help journalists and students as well as encourage accurate and fair reporting.”

The Guidelines were co-ordinated by the University of Westminster’s Active Travel Academy, with input from a broad range of professionals.

The Guidelines will be hosted on this website from today, including in an accessible format. Contact for further information.

You can see and hear Laura's presentation of the Guidelines below:

RCRG launch presentation with audio
Download PPTX • 20.79MB

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