Cycling

Title: Trends in local newspaper reporting of London cyclist fatalities 1992-2012: the role of the media in shaping the systems dynamics of cycling

Organisation: University of Westminster (Transport Studies Group)
Date uploaded: 6th July 2017
Date published/launched: December 2016

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Successfully increasing cycling across a broad range of the population would confer important health benefits, but many potential cyclists are deterred by fears about traffic danger. Media coverage of road traffic crashes may reinforce this perception.

As part of a wider effort to model the system dynamics of urban cycling, this paper examined how media coverage of cyclist fatalities in London changed across a period when the prevalence of cycling doubled. This was compared with changes in the coverage of motorcyclist fatalities as a control group.

Police records of traffic crashes (STATS19) were used to identify all cyclist and motorcyclist fatalities in London between 1992 and 2012. Electronic archives of London's largest local newspaper were searched to identify relevant articles (January 1992–April 2014), in a bid to identify which police-reported fatalities received any media coverage. This was repeated in three smaller English cities.

Across the period when cycling trips doubled in London, the proportion of fatalities covered in the local media increased from 6% in 1992–1994 to 75% in 2010–2012. By contrast, the coverage of motorcyclist fatalities remained low (4% in 1992–1994 versus 5% in 2010–2012; p = 0.007 for interaction between mode and time period).

Comparisons with other English cities suggested that the changes observed in London might not occur in smaller cities with lower absolute numbers of crashes, as in these settings fatalities are almost always covered regardless of mode share (79–100% coverage for both cyclist and motorcyclist fatalities).

The paper concludes that in large cities, an increase in the popularity (and therefore ‘newsworthiness’) of cycling may increase the propensity of the media to cover cyclist fatalities. This has the potential to give the public the impression that cycling has become more dangerous, and thereby initiate a negative feedback loop that dampens down further increases in cycling. Understanding these complex roles of the media in shaping cycling trends may help identify effective policy levers to achieve sustained growth in cycling.

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