To say this weekend has been a bad one for motorway road safety is something of an understatement. Seven people killed and more than 50 injured in a multi-vehicle crash on the M5 in Somerset (see here) and, six people seriously injured in a crash involving 11 vehicles on the M6 motorway in Lancashire (see here). But is it all as dire as the media would have us believe?
Not wishing to detract from the suffering and trauma experienced by those involved or their grieving relatives, there needs to be a little perspective around some of the emotive media headlines. The only comparable incident to this, according to the AA, was a major crash involving 51 cars on the M4 in Berkshire in March 1991, which left 10 people dead and 25 injured (source BBC).
You can rest assured that as soon as the original M5 ‘story’ broke media hacks were already searching for an ‘angle’ on the incident. After all, once the final death toll was known, and the emergency services managed to get the road open again, without that ‘angle’ the incident was simply destined to be yesterday’s news.
Social media networks immediately overflowed with comment from ‘armchair’ collision investigation ‘experts’ and as to the remainder of that traffic, well that was (mostly) concerned with hollow sympathy messages. Ones that appeared to lack any true empathy, let alone some genuine understanding of the circumstances or issues.
As a slight aside… I wonder how many of those opinionated people, frantically posting on Twitter or Facebook, actually paused to think for a moment and consider, the impacts upon our emergency service personnel and/or the subsequent effects upon their families? Very few I suspect and in any case, many of those Social Network items will have been posted simply to court opinion or enhance network profiles. But then came every journo’s dream…
A perhaps tenuous but media friendly link between the collision and Guy Fawkes Night. Given the unusually high-profile afforded to Mr Fawkes by the press of late, due mainly to public disdain with parliament, this could easily increase their circulation figures. A factor no doubt enhanced as soon as the police confirmed they would be investigating this contributory factor…
Police probing the M5 crash which killed seven people have said a firework display next to the road is the “major line of inquiry”…(Read more)
No matter how the media explore and spin differing causation factors of this horrific incident most, even if some are subsequently proven, most will simply remain as a collection of ‘contributory’ factors, not the actual cause. I suspect that as ever there will be no single cause, despite the press clamour to find one. But why does this happen? It’s mainly due to our inherent social need to apportion blame, we tend to placate our own failings by pointing the finger of blame at others.
Despite the fact the media machine is likely to remain in overdrive for some time yet, my primary concern with this common place journalistic methodology is; the negative impact upon the general public misconception of fact, that and more importantly, the negative impact upon any subsequent court case and it’s outcome. Constant media hype has a tendency to influence perception of actual ‘evidence’.
The fact remains that with most road collisions, the greatest responsibility for cause generally sits with driver action or inaction factors. A lack of attention, poor levels of driving skills, excessive speed, poor perception of driving conditions and failure to adjust to them all play a part.
Unlike the media, and despite all the claims that speed limits or road construction must change the fact remains; motorways are statistically proven to be our safest roads… And, I’m actually happy to leave the final outcome of the subsequent investigation to the professionals!
- M5 motorway crash: death toll remains as no more bodies found overnight (telegraph.co.uk)
- M5 crash police investigating ‘black smoke’ and fireworks link (guardian.co.uk)
- M5 motorway crash: ‘it was like Afghanistan’ (telegraph.co.uk)
- M5 crash: police investigate rugby club fireworks display (guardian.co.uk)
- M5 crash investigation could go on into the new year (mirror.co.uk)
- Was fatal M5 motorway crash caused by nearby fireworks display? (100gf.wordpress.com)