In the stories of traffic accidents, the “car” is to blame

“The Machine” is a real road hazard. When we read the press, we discover his misdeeds every day. On January 4, France Bleu Poitou shows, “car” for example did “I didn’t see” He hit a 74-year-old man while crossing the pedestrian crossing and threw him from a height of 25 meters. At Wingles (Pas-de-Calais), two days later, “car” The seriously injured cyclist then fled. in Nantes (Loire-Atlantique), “car” Repeated on January 15. Indeed, France Bleu notes in the title of one of its articles: “Man found dead in Nantes: reportedly hit by runaway car”.

You get the idea: in the headlines, anchors and attacks of many press articles about various traffic incidents, motorists are often erased by the personification of vehicles. In these posts, it is not only the car that hits, but also the car that runs away, the car that is crazy, the car that is still going too fast, or the car that deliberately runs over migrants.

A surprising fact: in most of these articles, the identities are in the power of car drivers. Conversely, other road users are referred to as people, not vehicles. This can give surprising sentences like chapô of The future of Artois : A traffic accident occurred between a cyclist and a car on rue de la Coupignies.

Communities concerned with soft mobility and victims of road violence pay attention to these expressions. Thus, the Citizen Observatory methodically replaces the testimony of road accident cyclists “car” through “person driving a car” in articles on their website.

Pieces of journalists

To show just how widespread these journalistic tics are, an anonymous activist named Nicholas even decided to list as many of these papers as possible starting in July 2021. The 25-year-old, who says he travels a lot by bicycle, tells us: “Since it was pointed out to me that journalists talk a lot about the “machine” in their articles, I got the impression that this is systematic. I wanted to check this impression with a reference. » A cyclist chose this on Twitter — “I know that the editorial team on Twitter is consulted and monitored, my goal is to make journalists think and react” – and with a simple and effective methodology – “I type ‘car’ into Google news several times a day. I get results almost every time. » How can a person devote so much time to such a watch? When asked, Nicholas explains that he was interested at first “On mobility and its risks”. Then, as he spoke to us, he seemed to understand: “I am a stretcher bearer. That is, I see the dangers of the road every day. »

After more than eighteen months of watching, Nicholas gives journalists the main advice: don’t talk about “the car” anymore.. “When I propose this, people tell me that it will put all the responsibility on the drivers. I don’t agree. I know drivers aren’t always at fault, that’s for sure. But by changing the turns of statements, we are not accusing anyone, we are simply avoiding saying that the main fault of the traffic accident is bad luck. » Let’s say right away that Nicholas failed: it shows that he is a very poor journalist answered himand no one seemed convinced by his arguments.

Examining a significant portion of the corpus collected by Nicholas, we see constants. It is noted that“car” Instead, it appears in the titles and beginnings of posts, and then the people driving the machines are mentioned in the body of the paper. Then the words and phrases are repeated in these paragraphs. We often read there that he is a driver “shock”, even if it is most likely wrong. Above all, in an article dated January 4, 2023, published by France Bleu Lorraine Nord“car” He hit a 47-year-old pedestrian who exceeded the speed limit in the city center and seriously injured him. He did not report the presence of the driver and passenger. “the relevant vehicle” both shake a lot (in bold).

“A car dazzled by the sun hit a 69-year-old motorcyclist”

These clauses also give extenuating circumstances to drivers. “Traffic was bad”, for example, in the France Bleu Poitou article quoted above, shows the gendarmerie. But more than the bad conditions, it is the sun that is being blamed by accident drivers. Articles indicating that he is a motorist “Blinded by the Sun” so manyanother twitter account was created and named in their honor. There are titles like: “A car dazzled by the sun hit a 69-year-old motorcyclist”. We contacted, the author of this account did not respond to us. But he exchanges with journalists on Twitter doesn’t seem very successful.

The ubiquity of a fairly driver-friendly version in their articles is probably partly due to the nature of these media facts and the possibility of a journalist covering them. One of them, François Greuez, explains in detail how he deals with various traffic incidents Douaisis Observer : “I go there most of the time. First, I take a few pictures from a distance, then, still from a distance, I make a small sign to alert the fire team leader of my presence. We know each other, we understand each other, he will talk to me after he finishes taking care of the victims. Meanwhile, I can sometimes talk to witnesses, but it’s rare that there are witnesses. Then the group leader gives me a topo, and it is true that often his information comes from more motorists. »

In many news reports, the only person involved in the duty of responding to the firemen – by implication the press – is the driver of the car. This is why we hear so much of his version of the facts, and why reading the vast corpus of these press articles gives the impression that drivers are rarely at fault.

Soft mobility

The problem: official reports of the accident say the exact opposite. For example, the 2019 road safety report shows this “Soft mode users are least likely to be responsible for fatal accidents” and on the other hand “Users of passenger and commercial vehicles, mopeds and motorcycles are often responsible for the fatal accidents they are involved in. »

The subject is not typical of French journalism. An article published in a scientific journal in 2019 Transportation Studies Interdisciplinary Perspectives for example, it was devoted to how American journalists deal with various road incidents and their effects. The authors of the article noted that misperceptions about road risks and the responsibilities of various road users can be corrected by making very minor changes in habits in the way articles are written: “Go through [dans les articles, NDLR] it reduces the risk of victim blaming from the driver’s point of view rather than the pedestrian’s point of view. » The study demonstrated the beneficial effect of certain techniques: systematically showing the number of traffic accidents that have already occurred in the same section in previous months, for example, reporting different traffic incidents without presenting them as isolated cases. As you can imagine: the study also recommended directly identifying the driver and already identifying his car. Very bad “car”.

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