Words matter: Reporting crashes in the media

Can you spot the difference in the following headlines?

“Vehicle Injures Woman, Police Say”

“Young Woman Faces Debilitating Injuries After Being Struck by Driver, While in Crosswalk”

The first headline uses passive verbs which separates the action from the subject. The language clearly creates a victim-blaming division of “us” vs “them.” It dehumanizes the person injured and the person who hit her. The headline is plain and uninteresting.

The second headline, however, uses active verbs and refers to humans instead of machines. It brings the realization that a human driver operating a vehicle crashed into a person walking rather than sounding as if the vehicle itself crashed into the pedestrian. The rhetoric of this headline causes the reader to become more interested in the story because they feel empathy for the humans involved.

Clearly, rhetoric has power. The language we choose to use when discussing crashes and pedestrian safety has the power to demand attention, evoke emotion and create behavior change. For this reason, it is so important that the media uses this correct rhetoric when reporting on pedestrian injuries and fatalities. Racquel Asa, a traffic reporter for WFTV Channel 9 and partner of Best Foot Forward (BFF), is accepting the challenge to change the rhetoric.

Asa joined the Orange County BFF Steering Committee planning workshop to discuss her experience in reporting on pedestrian-motorist crashes. She believes in adopting a language change that takes the headline from sterility to empathy, from legalities to regularities and from divided to unified. She desires for everyone to realize we are all on one team and, despite our car-centric society, we are all pedestrians at some point and we all want to arrive alive. To achieve this goal of unity and empathy, Asa uses her platforms to consistently remind drivers of the law and relate the incidents back to them as individuals.

Additionally, Racquel Asa joined other Orange County BFF partners in an open dialogue about how we talk about pedestrian safety and collisions. Asa encouraged BFFers to contact her in the future to keep talking about how we can continue to change the language revolving around pedestrian-motorist crashes.

Thank you, Racquel Asa, for consciously putting your Best Foot Forward to be the change.

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