Road collisions should not be framed as 'unavoidable accidents'
Guest blog by Victoria Lebrec, Head of Policy, Campaigns and Communications for RoadPeace, the national charity for road crash victims
Yesterday the 2019 casualty statistics annual report was published by the Department for Transport. 1,752 people reported killed in Britain in road accidents.
The language is dehumanising and unambitious. Deaths on the road have stayed at more or less the same level since 2010. And given that they’re just accidents, why bother doing anything about it? That is what the word accident evokes - apathy and acceptance. 1,752 lives have been extinguished and countless more people left bereaved and grieving. The word accident could not be further from the reality of the manner of death. Accident evokes spilt milk. Not human bodies violently hit by or thrown from vehicles. Vehicles driven by other people.
I was run over in 2014 and my left leg was amputated as a result of the collision. I narrowly survived. This was the beginning of my journey campaigning for road danger reduction. For the purposes of writing this guest blog, I had a look at the way my crash was reported in the media.
“A cyclist who was nearly killed and lost her leg after she was hit by a skip lorry has hugged and forgiven the driver who was fined £750 for his role in the accident.”
This is by no means the worst collision reporting I’ve ever seen. It’s really not too bad, in relative terms. But reading it you’d be forgiven for assuming that I should be hugging the skip lorry instead of the driver. As it reads as though the skip lorry is to blame for the crash. And why am I forgiving someone if it was an accident? And what would the role of the driver be given it was an accident? What’s he even being fined for?
This is how that headline should have read:
“A woman who was nearly killed and had her leg amputated after a man driving a skip lorry crushed her, has hugged and forgiven him for his crime of Careless Driving, for which he was fined £750.”
That article was written in 2015. I started working for RoadPeace in 2018 and have now met countless people who have either been seriously injured or have had their loved ones killed in road crashes.
Since I’ve started working for the charity, well over 3,000 people are reported to have been killed in crashes in Britain. When I tell friends and family about what I do, I tell them five people are killed every day on the roads. They’re always shocked “Really? That many?”. And it’s no surprise really. How can they be expected to know when crashes are very rarely reported on in an accurate way that conveys agency, and that they’re referred to as unavoidable accidents?
I’m really pleased that the Active Travel Academy has produced these reporting guidelines for media. The link between language and apathy should not be underestimated. If we want action on addressing the devastation that crashes cause, we need to report on them in a way that inspires action.