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One of the strengths of the pedestrian e-mail network, PEDNET, is the diverse background of the participants. Last month, a physicist, Alan Streater (), used his analytical skills to examine how major newspapers covered 42 motor vehicle pedestrian deaths. He termed his analysis “quick and dirty” but it provides insight into the quality of coverage.
He categorized the wording in the reports into neutral, slightly biased against the pedestrians (for example, pointing out twice that it was dark or that the pedestrian was not on a crosswalk), or very biased against pedestrians (for example, “darted out”, “ran out into traffic”, etc). He found the wording was mostly neutral in 26 out of 42 (62%), partially biased in five cases (12%), and clearly biased in 10 cases (24%). In six cases (14%) the report provided additional wording to excuse the driver, such as “it was raining and hard to see”. There were no cases in which wording appeared to exonerate the pedestrian in any way.
Alan had a disturbing observation—that newspaper reporters obtain their understanding of the fatality from police reports. He sees the need for a more careful analysis of biased language in newspaper coverage and, perhaps more importantly, police reports. The consequences of this bias may be more than just public perception; this bias may also jeopardize the prosecution of dangerous drivers. He also recommended comparing interregional and international differences in bias. He also reported the coverage of charges filed. A driver was reported to be charged in only one case out of 42 (2%). In all other cases (98%) the police apparently did not even issue a traffic ticket to the driver at the scene of the crash or shortly thereafter. In six cases, the crash was reported to be still under investigation, implying there is still a chance that some of these drivers might be charged later. Two cases were hit and run, and in one case the driver died. This analysis closely matches Amy Lightstone's recent analysis of drivers who kill child pedestrians. She found that 214 out of 237 drivers were not cited (90%).1 Can something be done to change this obviously dangerous situation?
Again, the diversity of PEDNET participants provides insight into addressing driver behavior. Osias Baptista Neto () reported that Brazil has reduced casualties dramatically after a change in traffic law at the beginning of the year. The new laws recognize that vehicular homicide may be unintentional but none the less results from risky behavior. Killing another person in a traffic crash results in imprisonment for two to four years, and a suspension or revocation of the driving license. It increases the penalty by half for striking a pedestrian in a crosswalk or on the sidewalk (pavement). He reports that preliminary data show a 70% drop in casualties in the major cities like Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, and Curitiba. His report illustrates the benefits of global comparisons of injury control efforts. Injury Prevention connects the English speaking world, but extra effort is required to reach beyond the barrier of differing language.
The barrier is especially significant with legal terms and concepts. However difficult to analyze, injury prevention specialists need to examine international differences in how legal systems treat motor vehicle injuries.
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