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Editor’s comment: How should we report on road crashes?

PUBLISHED: 15:30 01 August 2018

The aftermath of the collision in Old Street. Picture: Heather Deacon

The aftermath of the collision in Old Street. Picture: Heather Deacon

Archant

We’ve taken some stick for our reporting of the collision at Old Street roundabout that left a woman fighting for her life, and while I normally assume readers don’t care about the actual day-to-day of our jobs I’m curious as to what everyone else thinks we should have done.

One criticism centred around whether we were right to refer to the incident as a “collision” or should have chosen more active language such as “run over”.

There was also the perennial debate about whether it is correct to say a driver hit someone or a vehicle did, with people on soapboxes saying we were brushing the accountability of drivers in general under the carpet by making it sound like a cement truck could hit people without being driven by someone (of course this can happen but I accept it’s not the norm). Stop Killing Cyclists went to far as to call our attempt at neutrality “dreadful”.

From my perhaps ignorant point of view, the argument is semantic: the only thing a driver can hit is the inside of a car, so it is the car itself that hits something. Nothing more insidious than that dictates our choice of language. Of course drivers are responsible for cars – but do readers really need telling that?

What has given me pause for thought is that I do believe drivers should bear responsibility for the hugely more dangerous vehicles they operate, and this isn’t always borne out by, for instance, convictions and sentences. So if we can do anything to remind people that they might be better off not driving anything then I want to know what it is. But I didn’t witness this crash. So while it might be tempting to assume fault on the part of the driver – I understand the theoretical argument in favour of doing so until proven otherwise – there is no legal basis for doing so in print.

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