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.
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 email@example.com.
Strategies | Best Practices
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Host: Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety (CSCRS)
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 (creativebyrovelo.com). 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.