05/23/10 337 W - + 9 - 6 Reporting Accident Rates

For our Sunday media studies, let's look at this WTVD story about accident rates in the Highway Patrol. The story was posted on Thursday, and stayed on the home page about a day. That is, if memory serves. Don't know about broadcast versions, as Mr. Blogger rarely watches television. The story was not picked up by any other outlets, nor did it generate many user comments. (That is, seemingly many user comments. They total eight at present, and that might be the norm for stories on the WTVD web site. They seem to have a far smaller community of posting users than the WRAL web site.)

The story is about accident rates. WTVD obtained state records showing that troopers were involved in an average of seven vehicle accidents a week in 2009. Or about one a day. They cite the increase in that rate from the prior year. They also quote a Highway Patrol official, who provides perspective and context. Number of hours that troopers drive each day, the millions of miles they drove last year, etc. 

Seems like a reasonably balanced article, at least on the surface. There's some reporting on dollar amounts, for payments to people involved in accidents caused by troopers. They use the language "taxpayer dollars," which is a bit provocative for wording. And you can guess how the thing probably reads to John Q. Public. Our take, however, is that additional information would be nice.

Is the accident rate increasing or decreasing over time, over the span of several years? How does that rate compare with the rates of other state highway patrol agencies? Same for other law enforcement agencies? And if we start comparisons, what are the apples to apples comparisons? The per-mile or per-trooper rates? And what other factors might be impacting accident rates? Changes in numbers of drivers on roadways over time? Changes in routes, road conditions, or total miles driven? And so on. What say readers on this article, and the reporting therein?

No question in my mind that this story was designed to enrage the public. They must be taking lessons from the N&O. Lots of words that didn’t need to be there. It’s not what they say – once again, it’s how they say it. I agree that all the proposed questions you offer, all unanswered, need to be answered by this media outlet to complete the story.
TimB (Email) - 05/27/10 - 20:40

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