Last week, I was glad to see that an impaired driving conviction was generously covered by the media and even made the front page of local newspapers1. In particular, Matt Kieltyka’s piece exhibited traits of what experts consider good road accident journalism: it contained a detailed description of the event, including its human context, antecedents, the aftermath, and it explained how drinking and driving led to the death of a little girl1.
In my opinion, this kind of traffic safety reporting greatly contributes to change public’s attitudes towards impaired driving2. When reporters explain the causes of a collision and emphasize on drivers’ choices, they are also educating the public on how to prevent crashes, injuries, or fatalities3. In fact, experimental studies have demonstrated that this type of journalism produces positive changes in the public’s perception of the problem2. Kudos for you Matt Kieltyka!
I have, however, one caveat: avoid information that can be interpreted as chance or poor driving skill; for instance, “[she] lost control of the vehicle”. This sentence alone may dispel the causal connection between impaired driving and the fatality in question3. More importantly, it contradicts the idea that crashes can be prevented by making the right decision.
I hope other journalists follow Mr. Kieltyka’s lead on this style of traffic safety reporting. After all, we would all prefer to celebrate a little girl’s birthday, rather than to praise a drunk driver’s conviction.
- Kieltyka, M. (2010). Family lives with dire consequences. In 24 Hours, Vancouver, 7, 80, July 28, 3.
- Wilde, G.J.S. (1993). Effects of mass media communications on health and safety habits: an overview of issues and evidence. Addiction, 88, 983-996.
- Harré, N., Foster, S. & O’Neill, M. (2005). Self-enhancement, crash-risk optimism and the impact of safety advertisements on young drivers. British Journal of Psychology, 96, 215-230.