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TSU Researchers Analyze Coverage of Pedestrian Deaths

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TSU Researchers Analyze Coverage of Pedestrian Deaths

When the media covers pedestrian accidents, readers often receive the same information that is found in the police report. In other words, news articles typically tell us little more than:

  • Who was involved
  • What happened
  • When the accident happened
  • Where the incident occurred

Oftentimes the last line in a pedestrian accident article relates how “the accident is still under investigation” (or something to that effect), and that is the last readers hear about the incident.

Occasionally, though, news outlets will dig deeper, as when the victim is a person of note, the circumstances of the accident are remarkable, or when it’s a hit-and-run.

For example, when a Liberty University professor  was hit by a bus in downtown Nashville and suffered multiple fractures and a collapsed lung, the incident attracted the attention of the media.

And when a Cannon County, Tennessee woman was accused of speeding around stopped vehicles at a funeral procession and running over a pedestrian, the circumstances of that crash inspired multiple media outlets to detail the story, which resulted in DUI and possession of marijuana charges for the accused.

Finally, regular consumers of local news may recall some of Music City’s most well-publicized hit-and-run accidents, including a recent incident in which two twenty-something tourists were hit while riding Bird Scooters in downtown Nashville.

Pedestrian Accidents and the Media
But if research conducted by Tennessee State University (TSU) professors Anthony Campbell and Cara Robinson is any indication, the way the media covers pedestrian accidents—and in particular pedestrian deaths—has important implications for public policy, as news coverage helps shape public opinion and informs strategies for combatting the problem.

In their recent report Dying While Walking: Interrogating Media Coverage of Pedestrian Deaths in the United States, Campbell and Robinson highlight the increased risk of dying as a pedestrian due to a traffic crash, which, they say, “has outpaced the risk of dying as a driver or a passenger.” Specifically, they highlight a 24.3 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities from 2012-16, caused in part by “increased urban population [and] outdated roadway designs.”

This dovetails what we’ve seen locally; in fact, 2017 was the deadliest year for pedestrians in Nashville’s history, with at least 23 fatalities recorded.

Yet the public typically doesn’t hear about all of a metropolitan area’s pedestrian deaths. Dying While Walking illustrates that in the five cities and one county studied, there were 490 pedestrian deaths in a five year period but only 269 pedestrian death news stories, for a total “news story location rate” of 54.9 percent.

Moreover, the media coverage of pedestrian fatalities typically lacks contextual detail and is frequently driver/motor vehicle-centric, which has led some groups to argue that “coverage of pedestrian deaths is a form of ‘victim shaming,’” as when a victim is deemed to have been “distracted while walking”.

As a result, “the importance of pedestrian advocacy groups”—including Nashville Pedestrian Death Registry and Walk Bike Nashville—“is amplified,” argue Campbell and Robinson, who have developed a series of recommendations for how to improve media coverage of pedestrian accidents.

For one, they recommend that the news media be “less formulaic in their approach,” noting that “simply including a Google street view of the crash site could go a long way to provid[ing] richer context for the public.”

Campbell and Robinson also recommend that states revise their uniform crash report standards to include more data about pedestrians, which would “increase the likelihood that media coverage will include more contextual details and shift away from ‘pedestrian-blaming.’”

Future Pedestrian Accident Research
At Raybin & Weissman, we’re looking forward to reviewing additional research by Campbell and Robinson, which promises to address why certain pedestrian fatality cases are not covered by the media, as well as “more in-depth examination of the relationship of police reports and the coverage of traffic crashes involving a pedestrian fatality.”

In the meantime, we encourage you to review our pedestrian safety tips, featured in our article on What to do if you are the Victim of a Pedestrian Accident. Of course, if you or a family member is a victim of a pedestrian accident in Nashville or elsewhere in Middle Tennessee, don’t hesitate to give us a call at 615.256.6666. We offer a free, no obligation consultation and we will fight to get you justice!