Transportation

Bicycle Crash News Reports

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 21, 2006

I just read an interesting post in the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) blog listing the top ten things journalists get wrong in bicycle crash reports.

The article opens with a critique of a report in the Oregonian on a cyclist who died of chest injuries, and asks why the report had to include the irrelevant fact that the cyclist wasn't wearing a helmet.

Inquiries into the report received the response, "we get a lot of calls about the story if we don't include certain information." But that's simply bad reporting – reporters should include what's pertinent to the report, and exclude what's not, period. And the reason readers want to know whether a chest-injury fatality was wearing a helmet is because the media has taught them that helmet use is what's important.

The actual list is essentially a run-down of ways that media reports demonstrate a bias against cyclists, mainly by regarding driving as normal and by regarding cycling (or walking, although the post does not delve into this) as exceptional.

The ten points are debatable, and I highly recommend following the comments for a lively and informative debate, but the first point really jumped out at me:

1. Failure to include speeds in the report. Vehicle speed is the top factor in a crash's seriousness, and excessive speed is a leading cause of crashes. While speeds might not be available immediately, journalists should at least mention if cars were speeding or appeared to be speeding.

Speed may be the single most important factor in whether a collision (not an "accident") kills the people involved. Below about 25 km/h, vehicle collisions are almost never fatal, and the fatality rate rises exponentially as speeds increase.

This may be the most important lesson for Hamilton, a city with a transportation system designed to maximize vehicle speeds. We're never going to have safer streets or cleaner, healthier transportation until we slow those cars the hell down.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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