A guide to reporting on the burden of road crashes

This guide is produced as part of a project titled, ‘Strengthening the capacity of the media in Uganda to report on road safety’ policy, implemented by the African Centre for Media Excellence with support from the Global Road Safety Partnership.

While the initial shock and grief associated with road crashes are newsworthy, seasoned journalists recognise that often the real story lies behind the headlines. To give a full picture of road safety issues, journalists should also uncover the hidden costs, known as the ‘burden’ of road crashes. This burden encompasses not just the health of those directly involved, but also the economic strain on families and communities, the social disruption caused by lost productivity and disability, and the psychological trauma experienced by survivors and witnesses.

The health burden of road crashes

Road crashes are a leading cause of the global health burden. The term ‘health burden’ encompasses the overall impact of illness, injury and premature death on individuals and populations. However, reporting on the health burden is not simply a matter of counting injuries. It goes further, utilising a metric called DALYs (Disability-Adjusted Life Years). 

 DALYs quantify the years of healthy life lost due to premature death, serious injuries with long-term disabilities, and even seemingly minor injuries with chronic consequences. Road crashes can leave survivors with lifelong physical limitations, chronic pain, and mental health issues. Crashes contribute to a significant loss of healthy life expectancy for individuals and a strain on healthcare systems struggling to cope with the influx of crash victims.

 The Global Burden of Disease Study provides a comprehensive picture of death and disability attributable to various factors, including road crashes. By analysing data and identifying trends, the study aids in improving health systems, reducing disparities, and informing policy decisions. Policymakers and healthcare providers worldwide utilise this information to prevent road crashes and mitigate their societal impact.

 Here are a few pathways for you to report on the health burden of road crashes:

  • Numbers can inform, but stories connect. Interview crash survivors and their families. Talk to medical professionals like rehabilitation specialists and chronic pain management doctors to understand the long-term health consequences. Highlight the physical and mental health challenges faced by survivors – chronic pain, depression, PTSD – and the strain placed on families who become caregivers or lose a vital member.
  • The health burden extends beyond individual patients. Investigate the impact of road crashes on local hospitals and emergency services. Collaborate with public health officials to access data on ambulance response times, bed shortages, and the strain on medical personnel treating crash victims. Reporting wait times and highlighting overwhelmed emergency rooms provides a tangible picture of the burden on the entire healthcare system.
  • Do not focus on fatalities alone. Explore the varying health impacts of different crash severities. Talk to physiotherapists and occupational therapists to understand the long-term consequences of seemingly minor injuries like whiplash, including chronic pain and reduced mobility. This broadens the understanding of the health burden and its impact on individuals’ ability to work and live independently.
  • Report on existing initiatives that aim to reduce the health burden. Explore community-based rehabilitation programmes that can help crash survivors regain independence and manage chronic conditions. Investigate successful road safety campaigns in other countries or regions and their potential for local adoption.

 The economic burden of road crashes

The economic impact of road crashes goes beyond just vehicle repairs and infrastructure damage. It also includes lost productivity because of injuries and fatalities, which weakens a nation’s economic output. These crashes affect businesses as they lose skilled workers, which reduces production and tax revenue. Healthcare systems are overwhelmed by the large number of crash victims, which puts a strain on resources and could lead to higher costs for everyone. Families could also be negatively affected as they may lose their primary income earner or face overwhelming debt managing long-term care for their injured loved ones. Besides, national resource allocation is skewed as funds earmarked for development projects or social programmes may be redirected to manage the aftermath of crashes, hindering progress in other areas. These combined economic consequences, along with the human cost, paint a stark picture of the devastating impact road crashes have on individuals, societies, and national development.

Here are some strategies for journalists to effectively cover this topic:

  • Expand your sources beyond the police and road safety agencies. Talk to businesses that have lost employees due to crashes. Interview representatives from chambers of commerce or industry leaders to understand the impact on production and workforce stability.
  • Investigate national budgets and resource allocation. Examine how much is spent on managing the aftermath of crashes compared to funds allocated for development projects or social programmes. Highlight potential discrepancies and the long-term impact on national progress.
  • Do not shy away from presenting data on economic losses. Explain the figures clearly and concisely. Use real-life examples – for instance, translate lost productivity into the number of schools or hospitals that could have been built with those resources.
  • Use national statistics on crash-related economic losses. However, balance this with the human cost. Use small numbers: Focus on the story of a single family struggling with the financial burden of a crash victim’s care. This juxtaposition of macro and micro perspectives paints a more complete picture of the issue.
  • Do not work in isolation. Collaborate with your newsroom’s financial journalists to analyse the economic impact of crashes. They can help interpret data on lost productivity, healthcare expenditure, and the impact on tax revenue.
  • Explore the long-term economic burden on families. Interview financial advisers or social workers to understand the financial strain caused by long-term care for crash victims. Highlight the potential for increased poverty and financial hardship.

 Story ideas on the burden of road crashes

  1. Follow a family as they navigate the financial challenges of caring for a family member who sustained severe injuries in a road crash. Explore how they juggle medical bills, lost income, and the emotional toll of caregiving.
  2. Share the story of a family grappling with the sudden loss of their main income earner in a road crash. Explore how they navigate financial instability, access support services, and rebuild their lives in the aftermath of tragedy.
  3. Investigate the financial burden of legal proceedings for crash victims seeking compensation and justice. Interview legal experts, advocacy groups, and affected individuals to uncover the challenges they face in pursuing legal recourse and the implications for financial recovery.
  4. Explore innovative technologies and rehabilitation methods aimed at reducing long-term care costs for crash survivors. Highlight success stories and interview experts in the field to assess the potential for widespread adoption and impact on healthcare expenditure.
  5. Investigate the return on investment (ROI) of road safety initiatives in terms of economic savings and societal benefits. Analyse data on crash prevention measures, enforcement efforts, and infrastructure improvements to assess their cost-effectiveness and impact on economic outcomes.
  6. Spotlight companies that prioritise road safety measures and support employees affected by crashes. Interview corporate leaders, safety officers, and employees to showcase best practices, corporate responsibility initiatives, and the business case for investing in road safety.
  7. Investigate how road crashes exacerbate existing inequalities and disparities in vulnerable communities. Use local data and interviews with community leaders, activists, and affected individuals to explore the intersection of socioeconomic factors and crash-related economic burdens.
  8. Compare healthcare costs for crash-related injuries across different regions and healthcare systems. 

Points to remember

Every story you report on road safety, whether written or broadcast, should be an opportunity to educate the public. Highlight the relevant traffic laws and government policies that are in place, explaining their purpose to promote safe driving practices. It is also crucial to advocate for positive action. Call for stricter enforcement of existing laws, or urge for improvements to road infrastructure to minimise the risk of crashes.

Avoid lengthy, essay-style reporting that can lose your audience’s attention. Instead, focus on specific, relatable issues that your audience can easily understand. Present the information clearly and concisely. Consider using an interactive format, incorporating the voices of those directly impacted by crashes – survivors, families, and emergency responders. This helps your audience connect with the human cost of road crashes.

Do not just report the statistics; emphasise the human cost of crashes. Clearly define and illustrate the ‘health burden’ and ‘economic burden’ through real-world examples. Show how crashes impact individuals, families, and the entire healthcare system. Explain these concepts using local terminology so the public can clearly understand the consequences of road crashes in their communities.

Combine data with human narratives for a comprehensive report. Balance the data with personal stories from survivors, families, and emergency responders. These stories evoke emotion and raise awareness about the true cost of crashes on people’s lives. Additionally, investigate and question existing policies related to road safety, such as third-party insurance, ambulance services, and emergency care access for crash victims. Analyse the effectiveness of these policies and their impact on the burden of road crashes.

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Photo by Valentin Sarte

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