Advocacy for Traffic Victims Starts with Language


Advocacy for Traffic Victims Starts with Language

Trailnet CEO, Cindy Mense’s letter to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board, published July 26, 2019

Missouri’s 1st Congressional District was just listed as the 47th most deadly district for people on foot in traffic crashes by Smart Growth America. Between 2008 and 2017, 188 people were killed while walking by people driving cars in the district.

This ranking follows the death of Timothy Thornton, who was killed while riding his bike by a person driving a truck last month in Wildwood. In two stories published by the Post-Dispatch, reporters called his death an accident. (June 25, June 26)

This contrasts the death of 11-year-old Trent Davis who was killed by a person driving a car while waiting on a bus in March. In his case, the Post-Dispatch reported his death without calling it an accident.

Together this report and these individual deaths highlight the serious problem of people in cars killing people walking and biking in our region.

Language matters. When media outlets call preventable traffic deaths accidents it makes these deaths seem random and unavoidable. Road conditions, road design and on-road behavior come together to cause these deaths.

We need to stop calling these tragedies accidents.

We encourage everyone, especially reporters, to use accurate, people-first language when talking about traffic safety, and particularly traffic deaths: A person driving a truck, hit and killed a person riding a bike.

The Post-Dispatch and other local media should follow the Associated Press’s standards, “avoid accident, which can be read as exonerating the person responsible.”

Already the Missouri Highway Patrol has replaced “accident” with “crash” in their official reporting.

Crashes have causes and they are preventable. Accurately calling crashes what they are is the first step to start preventing them.