CUTR researchers analyze local news on bicyclist fatalities and offer guidance to journalists

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CUTR researchers analyze local news on bicyclist fatalities and offer guidance to journalists

What the media says matters when reporting news about bicyclists who are involved in fatal traffic crashes. On September 27, 2018, researchers at the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) recorded a webcast to unveil research entitled, “Media Framing of Fatal Bicyclist Crashes in Hillsborough County: A Critical Discourse Analysis.” The purpose of the study was to look at language patterns in media reports about fatalities to determine how they depict drivers and bicyclists in local news.

CUTR researchers Julie Bond, MPA, Erin Scheffels, PhD, and Lorraine Monteaguet, PhD examined the data collected from all bicyclist fatalities reported by the media in Hillsborough County over a ten-year period. The results of the study show that vocabulary and grammar function to remove blame from the motorist and to highlight the bicyclist’s actions.

“The advantage of this kind of research is that it looks at language itself and the basic rules for language use that shape meaning. It takes all this stuff we don’t think about often, and explains it,” said CUTR Research Assistant, Erin Scheffels, PhD. “Overall, the results indicate that standard media reports about fatalities depict them as either unpreventable or as something the bicyclist is responsible for. If the goal is to reduce these traffic fatalities, the study suggests there’s a more complicated picture for the public to look at.”

The research has been submitted to the Transportation Research Board (TRB), a division of the National Research Council of the United States, which serves as an independent advisor to the President of the United States, Congress, and federal agencies. The findings were presented at a lectern session during the TRB Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. on January 15, 2019. This research was funded by the National Center for Transit Research, a program of the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida.

The report provides recommendations for journalists, planners, policy makers, or others who want to make the roads safer for bicyclists.

If you would like to read the full report, please click here.

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