Involving the public in road safety reporting

To effectively bring about policy changes and interventions for road safety, it is crucial to involve and engage the public. Unfortunately, the media in Uganda is not doing a good job in engaging with the public on road safety.

A recent report by the African Centre for Media Excellence revealed that only eight percent of road safety stories featured input from private individuals. The main sources for these stories were the police, with minimal participation from the public. This lack of public engagement needs to be addressed in order to improve road safety reporting.

The overreliance on police officers and official statements, which often feature only perspectives of regulators or enforcers, has the potential to overshadow other important viewpoints from the general public. This can lead to incomplete reporting and hinder genuine public involvement, as it may exclude the perspectives of at-risk road users like pedestrians and cyclists, whose experiences often differ from official accounts.

Why journalists should involve the public

Firstly, involving the public can help demonstrate the impact of road safety on society. There are many people struggling with the effects of road crashes, such as caring for survivors, the high costs of hospitalisation and medication, and the long-term effects of road crashes on victims and their families. Telling these stories can help to shed light on the impact of road crashes and reframe this important public health concern and encourage more people to take action when they see the profound impact of inaction on road safety in society. Highlighting these stories, as the U.S. National Safety Council suggests, can be a powerful tool. They state, “protecting road users will help us rewrite our road safety story,” emphasizing the collective responsibility in improving road safety. Journalists play a crucial role in amplifying these stories and fostering a sense of shared ownership for this public health concern.

Involving the public in road safety stories helps to gather their views and ideas, creating public debate on the subject. Typically, the media provides a platform for discourse, allowing citizens to share their views and ideas, which can lead to the development of better interventions to address the challenge of road crashes.

Effective reporting on road safety goes beyond informing the public; it can influence policy and empower citizens. By giving voice to public concerns about helmet use, speeding, infrastructure, and post-crash care, media can spark policy discussions. Engaging the public in these stories allows journalists to gauge the community’s existing knowledge, which can then be addressed through targeted educational campaigns to improve overall road safety awareness.

Emerging evidence demonstrates a positive trend: communities are increasingly taking ownership of road safety challenges by implementing targeted interventions. These solutions encompass initiatives such as the installation of local signage and roadside lighting, the implementation of traffic calming measures like speed humps, and the deployment of community volunteers to assist children at crosswalks. Additionally, the marking of pedestrian crossings and trading centers further enhances safety for vulnerable road users. This collaborative approach, as exemplified by the Road Safety Volunteers in Kenya, fosters a solution-oriented environment. The systematic documentation and dissemination of these successful interventions in the media is crucial, allowing knowledge sharing and replication across the country. As aptly stated by Daily Monitor public editor, Odoobo Charles Bichachi, road safety is a “socio-economic problem that should be approached from a solution journalism perspective requiring continuous engagement.” Encouraging public participation in road safety narratives can demonstrably strengthen this ongoing commitment to collaborative problem-solving.

Lastly, there is magic in the power of collaboration in any intervention on issues of public concern. Involving private citizens can cause productive collaborations between the communities and media, and sometimes the communities and other organisations involved in efforts to improve the state of road safety. People feel appreciated when their perspectives are collected and shared, and they are likely to be more involved in searching for solutions to problems affecting them.

Tips on involving the public in road safety reporting

  • Leverage the public’s diverse experiences by encouraging them to share road safety concerns, fears, and suggestions.
  • Use online platforms, social media, or dedicated hotlines to collect these insights.
  • Go beyond crash reports as your primary source. Actively seek out perspectives from various stakeholders: victims, survivors, motorists, pedestrians, children. Ask the public which issues are most important to them.
  • Use interactive features like comments sections, call-in shows, or online surveys to gather feedback on published stories. This facilitates dialogue and allows for public input.
  • Feature interviews, vox pops, talk shows, or online polls to engage with different audience preferences and encourage participation in road safety discussions.
  • Collaborate with the public on road safety campaigns. Launch media series alongside public-driven initiatives like the recent Vivo Energy Uganda campaign “Tweddeko: Every Life Matters.”

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Featured photo by Blue Ox Studio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-people-walking-outdoors-2014342/

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