This Media Style Guide is intended to help journalists and producers constructively cover traffic crashes that injure or kill pedestrians, cyclists, wheelchair users, and other vulnerable road users. These injuries and deaths are not “accidents.” Rather, they are the outcomes of policy and design choices that prioritize the safety and convenience of people in motor vehicles at the expense of people outside of them.
We offer this guide to improve accountability and ultimately create safer cities for everyone. We believe that language choices can unintentionally distort or reinforce what is rapidly becoming outdated thinking about what cause crashes and why. We invite members of the media to review our suggested guidance and consider a different approach when covering these stories.
- Avoid the use of “accident,” replace it with “crash.” “Accident” insinuates that crashes are unpredictable and nothing can be done about them. However, factors like street design make crashes less or more likely. Crashes have systemic causes but they are also preventable.
- Describe the agency and causality of the crash. Explicitly link the driver and the vehicle to the crash aftermath in the headline and in a single sentence early in the story. Avoid obfuscating writing, including: 1) only mentioning the crash aftermath, 2) mentioning the vehicle without mentioning the driver, 3) only juxtaposing the aftermath with the driver. Describing the apparent agency and causality isn’t a legal assignment of blame unto the driver. This obfuscating writing diminishes the perception of car crashes as a problem. Instead of “Girl dies after being involved in collision”, use “Man fatally struck girl with car”.
- List the crash history of the street/intersection. ICBC/CoV provides statistics of how many crashes/fatalities occur at major intersections (source). Crashes are not a one-time occurrence, but part of a larger trend. Connecting the history of crashes in a five year or 10-year time span helps the public and the government identify the most dangerous areas and prioritize a safer street design. For example: “This is the 271st crash at this intersection in the past five years, the 145th one that resulted in injury, and the third resulting in a fatality.”
- Describe the vehicle in the crash. Vehicle design influences the likelihood and severity of crashes. Heavier vehicles are likelier to crash and likelier to kill people when they crash (source). Vehicles with tall front ends make people in front of them (especially children) less visible to the driver (source). Describing this creates demand for regulations on dangerous vehicle designs. Ideally, name the make, model and size. For example: “the driver was driving a Chevrolet Suburban, which weighs over 2,500 kg.”
- Describe the speed limit in the area. A substantial body of evidence shows that vehicles at higher speeds are likelier to crash and higher-speed crashes are likelier to be fatal. (source). 30km/h is substantially safer than 50km/h, because crashes will occur less often (drivers have more reaction time), and because crashes that occur will be less fatal (because of the lower force of impact). Do not state “speed was not a factor.” If someone is hurt or killed, speed is always a factor. Even if it is fair to say the driver was not going the speed limit, the speed limit should be stated.
- Describe the street/intersection design. Bad street design makes car crashes more likely (source). Examples include wide roads (which encourage speeding), corners with a big turn radius (which enables faster turns into crosswalks), lack of physically protected micromobility lanes, crosswalks being far apart, and car parking being allowed near an intersection (which obscures other road users). A street may have a posted speed limit but it may not be physically enforced by traffic calming features (e.g., speed bumps, narrow roads). One can examine the crash site in person or in Google Street View. Consider reaching out to a local expert (e.g., traffic engineer) or a local transportation advocacy group (like our group or HUB Cycling) to comment on how the street design contributed to the crash.
|Instead of writing this…||…consider writing this.|
|“A car hit a pedestrian.”||“A driver hit a pedestrian.”|
|“Police said speed did not appear to be a factor.”||[Speed is always a factor.] “Despite being a residential area, the speed limit was 50 km/hr.”|
|“The driver remained at the scene and is cooperating with police.”||[Do not include this information, as a person obeying the law is not noteworthy.]|
|“The pedestrian was wearing dark clothing, and earbuds.”||[Do not include this information, as it is victim blaming.]|
Vision Zero Vancouver’s general resources are here: visionzerovancouver.ca/resources/