The Role of Media and Road Safety

According to the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 28,190 people died in motor vehicle crashes from January through September, 2020, an increase of 4.6 percent from the same period in 2019.  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

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. 

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.

Shaping the narrative around traffic injury: A media framing guide for transportation and public health professionals (2020)

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). November, 2020.

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. 


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.

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. 

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. 

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

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 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

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.