The Role of Media and Road Safety

According to the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in February, 2022, 31,720 people died nationwide in motor vehicle crashes from January 2021 through September 2021. This is roughly a 12% increase from the same time period in 2020, and the highest number of fatalities "during the first nine months of any year since 2006 and the highest percentage increase during the first nine months in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s history." 

The traffic safety data for people walking and biking is also concerning. In California, according to provisional SWITRS data for 2019, the number of pedestrians killed in 2019 was 1,030, an increase of 48 fatalities from 2017. The number of bicyclists killed in the same period decreased from 164 in 2017 to 157 fatalities in 2019. These losses of life are unacceptable and preventable. 

Words Matter

Graphic of crash not accident campaign

Photo: Vision Zero Network

Effective communications about road safety, whether in the media, in safety campaign materials or in community outreach efforts play an important role in ensuring the safe mobility for all road users. How the public thinks about the problem of traffic injury and fatalities and what can be done about it is significantly influenced by how the media reports on it. 

Listed below are several resources of research and strategies on the role media plays in road safety. Some include approaches and ideas from other countries that have been practiced across the years and have shown promising outcomes. 

This page will continue to be updated with resources as we come across new information, so please continue to check our site for updates. Have a resource to share? Please contact us at

Strategies | Best Practices

Go Safely California 

“Go Safely, California” is an education program from the California Office of Traffic Safety and Caltrans that promotes a safety culture where everyone will “go safely.” Through year-round education campaigns, informational resources and tips, Go Safely, California helps the public make smart, informed choices about how to stay safe on the go. Check out the free resources listed on the Media Toolkits page. 

Berkeley Media Studies Group

The Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) is a nonprofit organziation that conducts research to learn how the media characterizes health issues. Check out their Framing 101 and Media Advocacy 101 resource guides. 

FrameWorks Institute 

FrameWorks is a think tank that helps mission-driven organizations communicate about social issues in ways that build public will to support progressive change. Check out their tools and resources and their library of research and recommendations on every issue they've investigated. 

Reporting on Road Safety: A Guide for Journalists 

World Health Organization

The Road Safety Reporting Initiative aims to help journalists tell more and better stories that help reduce deaths from crashes. As part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety, the initiative offers training and mentoring for journalists, as well as resources, data, contacts, and links to innovative tools and technologies. This guide reflects the experiences and lessons learned from workshops attended by journalists and editors, particularly from low-income to middle-income countries, and is available in three languages: English, Spanish, and Portuguese. 

Road Safety Media Brief

World Health Organization

The World Health Organization has compiled a list of resources for journalists who produce stories on road safety. This brief contains six downloadable fact sheets and more resources from WHO and other organizations.

Four Ways to Spot a Bad E-Bike Article

Kea Wilson, Streetsblog USA. August, 2023.

In this article, journalist Kea Wilson discusses how recent media stories about the dangers of e-bikes perpetuates harmful tropes.

Shaping the narrative around traffic injury: A media framing guide for transportation and public health professionals (2022)

Seth LaJeunesse, Stephen Heiny, Wes Kumfer, Nancy Pullen-Seufert, Luke Morin, Sydney Nicolla, Teresa Tackett and Lucinda Austin; Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety (CSCRS). October, 2022.

This guide suggests that transportation and public health professionals should work closely together with journalists to frame messages around pedestrian and bicycle crashes. 

Media Narratives of Pedestrian & Bicyclist-Involved Crashes

Marta Polovin. UC Berkeley Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC). Spring 2020.

This research highlights the issues around how the media frames pedestrian and bicycle collisions and how those messages highly impact people’s perceptions of those incidents. The author argues that the use of appropriate framing and messaging can help to enact a safe systems approach in preventing future road injuries. 

From Victim-Blaming to Solutions: Changing the Narrative About Traffic Crashes. Tools for active mobility advocates.

This toolkit, designed for active mobility advocates and anyone else with a stake in creating safer streets and neighborhoods, provides an overview of recent research findings on how news reporting about traffic crashes influences public perceptions, and how this relates to their work, as well as five detailed strategies for changing the public narrative about traffic crashes and roadway safety.

Making the Case for Transportation Language Reform: Removing Bias

Ian Lockwood, P.E. New Ways of Thinking. Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Journal. January 2017.

This paper provides guidance for how transportation planners and engineers can remove the bias found within their field of practice to make it more objective, and allow the profession to communicate more clearly, make sound decisions, and serve the needs of a broad population.

Improving the effectiveness of Road Safety Campaigns; Current and New Practices  

Tamara Hoekstra, Fred Wegman. IATSS Research. March, 2011.

This article outlines the pros and cons of commonly used campaign strategies while providing new methods that show a greater impact on the effectiveness of the role of media in road safety campaigns. 


Talking about our recovery from COVID: How public health practitioners can emphasize equity

Katherine Schaff, Pamela Mejia, HeatherGehlert, MJ, Lori Dorfman. Berkeley Media Studies Group. 2022.

Local and statewide coalitions that have organizing and communication capacity can effectively shape news coverage and make a real impact on equity-focused policies. To identify opportunities to elevate public health perspectives on an equitable recovery from COVID, Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) researched news about recovery from the pandemic. Check out the full report or the summary of key findings and recommendations. 

Vision Zero: Communicating to advance traffic safety

To help the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency in its goal to improve traffic safety, Berkeley Media Studies Group examined public discourse on the issue and identified framing challenges and opportunities. We also worked with the Vision Zero Network to produce two case studies — the first one is available here; the second here — that showcase how other communities have communicated effectively and strategically about policies that foster safe, equitable mobility.

Why do words matter when we talk about traffic injury?

Media plays a key role in shaping public opinion. Research on media reporting of traffic crashes, particularly pedestrian and bicyclist involved crashes, has shown that the words used to describe a crash influence people’s perception of what actually happened, who was at fault, and what can be done to prevent the crash.. Research demonstrates a need for objective coverage of vulnerable road user crashes. For more information on media narratives of vulnerable road user involved crashes: Media Narratives of Pedestrian & Bicyclist-Involved Crashes.

Intervening at the blotter, not the broadcast: Improving crash coverage by targeting police press releases

Tara Goddard, Kelcie Ralph, Calvin G. Thigpen, Raymond Davis. Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives. September 2022.

In this study, researchers explored an upstream to improving news coverage of crashes: improving the press releases written by the police. They piloted guidance to improve press releases with 45 officers in New Jersey using a mixed-methods approach.

Rogue drivers, typical cyclists, and tragic pedestrians: a Critical Discourse Analysis of media reporting of fatal road traffic collisions.

David Feyver and Rahel Aldred. University of Westminster, London, UK. January 2022.

This study "fits within an emerging literature analyzing the contribution of news media to constructing narratives about road collisions and road danger (e.g. Ralph et al. 2019; Magusin 2017). We use van Leeuwen’s Social Actor model of Critical Discourse Analysis to qualitatively analyze discursive themes within a sample of London Evening Standard articles reporting on cyclist and pedestrian fatalities in London between 2012 and 2019." 

How to save lives by improving news coverage of crashes

Check out this video summarizing two research papers: one detailing how crashes are reported in the media and the other how the patterns found in the first study affect the readers. Simple changes to media framing dramatically change the perception of the reader. Below are the two studies presented in the video.

Editorial Patterns in Bicyclist and Pedestrian Crash Reporting

Tara Goddard, Kelcie Ralph, Calvin G. Thigpen, Evan Lacobucci. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. February, 2019.

Does the media play a role in what information is covered and how messages are framed? This paper addresses this question by providing an analysis of how 200 local articles confront issues related to pedestrian and bicyclist crashes in their communities. 

Does news coverage of traffic crashes affect perceived blame and preferred solutions? Evidence from an Experiment.

Tara Goddard, Kelcie Ralph, Calvin G. Thigpen, Evan Lacobucci. Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives. December 2019.

This study discusses whether or not editorial patterns in traffic crash coverage shape public perception. An experiment was conducted using an online data collection tool, and the results show that editorial patterns do impact the reader’s perception of a crash and his/her role in prevention moving forward. 

Blame-the-Victim Policy Narratives and State-Level Transportation Policy Decisions

Stephen Mattingly, Karabi Bezboruah, Jennifer Sloan, Saeed Reza Ramezanpour Nargesi, Ayushi Mahiyar. Transportation Research Center for Livable Communities. May 31, 2018.

This report aims to determine if media reports on pedestrian and bike crashes shape policy narratives and if those narratives affect transportation policy decisions. A mixed-methods research design was used in this study.

Safety Campaigns

#CrashNotAccident: Words Matter in Saving Lives 

Vision Zero Network. February 2016.

In this article posted by Vision Zero Network, Emily Stein discusses what influenced her to become involved in the #CrashnotAccident campaign while challenging the public and the media to think about how we frame our messages related to traffic violence.

Crash Not Accident

Circulate San Diego. 2020.

Crash Not Accident is a campaign led by Circulate San Diego and funded by the California Office of Traffic Safety. This page provides educational resources related to the campaign and space to pledge and share the word. 

International Resources

Media coverage and framing of road traffic safety in India

Medhavi Gupta, Inayat Singh Kakar, Margaret Peden, Elena Altieri, Jagnoor Jagnoor. BMJ Global Health. March 2021.

Media coverage of road traffic collisions (RTCs) may influence preventative action. India experiences some of the highest RTC mortality and morbidity rates globally, but advocacy and effective action to mitigate this has been limited. We conducted an analysis of Indian media in English to assess whether coverage met the WHO’s Reporting on Road Safety guidelines for evidence-based reporting of RTCs. Read the full report. 

Road Collision Reporting Guidelines

The Road Collision Reporting Guidelines are produced in collaboration with the University of Westminster’s Active Travel Academy.

The Guidelines’ ten clauses speak to core journalistic principles of accuracy, fairness, non-discrimination and justice and are intended as a supplement to existing codes of conduct.

Road Safety Campaigns: What the research tells us 

Traffic Injury Research Foundation (Canada). May 2015.

This report discusses the foundational effectiveness of road safety campaigns through behavioral theories such as the Health Belief Model and the Theory of Planned Behavior. 

Publicity and Media Guidance (UK).

Brake Global is an international road safety charity with head offices in the United Kingdom and New Zealand. This resource provides information on how to frame messages for road safety campaigns ranging from social media use to conducting media interviews. 

Best Practice in Road Safety Mass Media Campaigns: A literature review 

LN Wundersitz, TP Hutchinson, JE Wooley. Centre for Automotive Safety Research at the University of Adelaide, Australia. April 2010.

This report provides research on the elements of road safety advertising that are effective and for whom. It also highlights evaluation methods and measures that could be used to determine the effectiveness of road safety advertising and concludes with recommendations for best practices for media campaigns. 

Events, Trainings, Programs

Interactive Classes in Storytelling and Media Relations:

In September 2023, Melissa Balmer of began offering a series of online trainings on storytelling and media relations. These free classes are made possible by It Could Be Me and are specifically for victims of traffic crashes and their advocates. You don't need to have attended a previous class to attend. The following classes are now available on the YouTube Channel:

  • Strategic Storytelling #2: Register now for "The Advocate's Story Map" on March 28th at 1130am PTOur next class in our year-long series sponsored by It Could Be Me focuses on how to craft a compelling story step-by-step using my “Advocate’s Story Map.” 1) You’ll learn the shape and structure of a compelling story for advocacy purposes. 2) You’ll get your hands in the clay and start crafting your own story. 3) You’ll start to strategize on how and when to tell this story to help you accomplish your advocacy goals this year.
  • Media Training #3: Bridging Tough Interview Questions: This hour-long class was taught live by and sponsored by It Could Be Me January 25, 2024, as a part of a year-long series of free classes for victims and survivors of traffic crashes, and safe and shared streets advocates. The focus of this class is to prepare you and your team for successful news media interviews by helping you prepare for tough questions the media (and others!) might ask.
  • Media Training #2: Creating a Successful Media Outreach Strategy: This class delves into smart media relations strategies to help grow your message: 1) How to create successful ongoing rapport with reporters and editors You can use your social media to have ongoing, relevant, and valuable conversations with key members of the media. We'll share what to do and what not to do to make this happen. 2) Why your org needs a media or newsroom We'll teach you how to build one, and if you already have one the elements that will take it to the next level (like hosting 3) How to position yourself as a thought leader with the media.
  • Media Training #1: World Day of Remembrance & BeyondWhat we'll cover: 1) Understanding today's media and how to successfully connect with them. 2) How to choose the right stories and storytellers to pitch to the media. 3) How to successfully deliver your message - not focusing just on the problem but the viable next steps solutions too so you can become a valued resource. 4) We'll be highlighting the Op-Ed as a strategic media relations tool.
  • How to Make Your Story Stand Out with Tom FloodIn this class, we're going to talk about the fact that "how" you tell your stories is just as important as the information shared in them. Your approach and delivery to storytelling really matters. We're delighted to have the talented Tom Flood of Rovelo Creative join us to share his wise insights from the perspective of an ad agency creative turned safe streets advocate.

CSCRS Research to Practice Webinar Series

The Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety (CSCRS) Research to Practice Bytes series focuses on multidisciplinary research and practices to advance transportation safety.

Opening Our Eyes to the Truth of Mobility Safety 

Host: National Safety Council

A new discussion series, Countersteer, was launched in September 2022 to inform NSC and its network around the latest progressive thinking, research and work in traffic safety. This series will host leading experts and practitioners in one-on-one discussions, followed by the opportunity to ask questions and dive deeper into their work.

This webinar will focus on how to promote the issue of mobility safety and shift perspective on who and what is prioritized through transportation systems. Tom Flood will join the National Safety Council to offer his marketing expertise and share how he has his own eyes opened to the issue of traffic safety. Register for this March 2 session and check out the recordings of previous sessions.

WHO Road Safety Reporting Contest 

Sponsor: International Center for Journalists and World Health Organization.

Application deadline: December 1, 2021

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) are conducting a WHO Road Safety reporting contest to raise awareness and spur dialogue around critical – yet underreported – road safety issues with a Vision Zero/Safe System Approach. 

Journalists reporting on road safety in English, Spanish or Portuguese in Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Ghana, India, Mexico, and Uganda are eligible. To be considered, your road safety story must be published between August 1, 2021, and December 1, 2021. In each of the eligible countries, a $1,000 first-place prize and $750 second-place prize will be awarded. Learn more.

Traffic Crashes As Seen On TV: An Opportunity to Reshape the Dialogue Around Road User Injury

Host: Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety (CSCRS) 

The way TV news stations cover traffic crashes and injuries both shape and are shaped by public perceptions about what is normal, right, and just about our transportation systems. News media frames tell us who was involved in traffic crashes, who is responsible for them, and often imply what might be done to address road user injury. CSCRS researchers, Seth LaJeunesse—with the UNC Highway Safety Research Center—and Sydney Nicolla—with the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media—along with a multi-disciplinary UNC research team analyzed more than 1,000 crash-featuring TV news stories in the U.S., spanning the years 2012-2019. Findings reveal clear patterns of reporting, such as focusing on traffic congestion, placing responsibility solely on road users, and treating most crashes as isolated from other crashes. In this webinar, Seth and Sydney shared details on the study’s methods, findings, and their development of a Media Framing Guide designed to motivate transportation and public health professionals to work with news journalists to help shape the narrative around traffic injury. Watch the recording and learn more about this project.

Results Not Accidents: Reframing and Rehumanizing Road Safety

Host:  University of North Carolina Department of City and Regional Planning, Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety (CSCRS)

This lecture is part of the Roadways for a Safer Future lecture series. In this session, "Results Not Accidents: Reframing and Rehumanizing Road Safety", Tom Flood of Rovelo Creative challenges dominant engineering, enforcement, and auto-centric communication narratives, and shares insights on how to use storytelling to shift the focus away from victim blaming and toward a human-centered transportation system. Tom Flood worked in advertising for many years developing brand work on a variety of clients including work on large auto accounts and has most recently been consulting and developing creative and content through Rovélo Creative ( Watch the lecture.

Words Matter: Effective Vision Zero Messaging

Host:  Vision Zero Network

One of the barriers to changing hearts and minds – and, ultimately, street designs and policies – around safe mobility stems from the ways we traditionally conceptualize and communicate about the topic. The good news is that we can overcome those barriers. To find out tips on how, the Vision Zero Network featured a savvy communicator, Barb Chamberlain, Director of the Washington State Department of Transportation, in their May 5, 2020 webinar, Words Matter: Effective Vision Zero Messaging. Visit this webpage for a webinar recap, a link to the event recording, and slides.