Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Two Notes on Crash Reporting and the Passive Voice

Two pieces on the front page today show our problem with crash reporting, grammar, and the attribution of fault in motor vehicle crashes.

Passive voice and erasing the driver
In a note about the horrific crash on Cordon Road, in part because fault has not been assigned by law enforcement, the drivers' participation and responsibility is erased and even evaded.
a Chevrolet passenger van made a left-hand turn and was struck by a Ford F-350 pickup truck
But better:
While driving a Chevrolet passenger van Pablo Gaspar-Ezequiel made a left-hand turn and collided with Cory Kudna driving a Ford F-350 pickup truck
This also avoids assigning blame to one driver or the other, but it also points to the fact the people were in charge of the vehicles, even when one or both of them made catastrophic errors.

By contrast, a piece about the sentencing of a driver in a DUI case, where guilt has already been adjudicated, is unambiguous about the grammatical and moral subject.

Active voice with driver as subject
But even when fault is not yet clear and there is not a morally clear cut case between bad driver and victims, it is still true that people are operating cars and we should be clear about their responsibility in that operation, even when errors occur.

That we are not always comfortable doing so is a way that autoism has come to mystify the dangers of our roads and of car use. Police do this, reporters do this, and most of us do this also in our casual conversation. It's a cultural pattern. But it should be broken.

Columbia Journalism Review

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