Friday, 10 December 2010

Motorcycle accidents in the media: Part 22

I really thought I had cleared my November backlog, but it appears not: Somehow, the chronological order of items in my Reader starred list had become messed up.

Le Sigh.

Okay, here goes:

Motorcyclist dies after collision with 'speeding' ute (ABC News Online, November 16).

There are many reasons in journalism to use quotes, including in headlines, but I'm not sure what the reason here was.

The ute was being followed by police, who hadn't got to the point of putting on lights and therefore making it a 'pursuit', and had a reported speed (which is probably accurate, from the police and all) of 140km/h. Which is 'speeding' anywhere but a couple of roads in the NT.

Quotes all too often make headlines look messy.

My other problem with this headline is that, as reported by the police and as demonstrated by the photo accompanying the article, the ute struck the bike. So why phrase the headline so a logical reading suggests the rider struck the ute? Yes, the ute is identified as being in the wrong in one sense, but 'bike -  collides - ute' implicitly puts blame for the collision upon the rider. 'Collides with' is a much cleaner construct than 'being struck by', and it can be argued that 'ute - strikes and kills - biker' is too close to an attribution of blame prior to a judicial judgement, but this headline feels like an unsatisfactory compromise.

It's a well written article, though, and provides much scope for discussion on whether the "technically it was not a police pursuit" is sarcasm from the writer - particularly given the last paragraph, where we are told the police investigation will be overseen by the ethical standards department.

What interests me here is that there is no quote from the police concerning the state of the driver. 140 is not actually all that fast, even at dark, with full-beam headlights on. I don't know what the state of lighting on that section of road was, but either the driver really wasn't (in a state to be) paying attention until the last minute, or the rider wasn't and merged at a fatally stupid wrong moment.

The lesson for all road users is: pay attention!

(As a side-note: I noticed when doing a final read-through that I had Freudianly written "full-beam headlines on".)

Now, from November 19, the Courier Mail went past over-long headline territory and into just plain actually wrong (language-wise, not fact-wise): Woman motorcycle rider killed crash at Withcott, east of Toowoomba.

Also: Why "Woman motorcyclist" in the headline, but "A female motorcyclist" in the opening par?

Interestingly, the RSS headline was "Warrego delays after fatal crash" which is slightly ambiguous (Who is Warrego, and what are they delaying?) but much cleaner.

Withcott is right at the bottom of the ranges, and marks a sort of gateway to Toowoomba. Murphy's Creek Rd is east of Withcott, and fairly major. The Warrego Highway is littered with uncontrolled intersections like that and there have already been speed limit reductions and serious signage put elsewhere at major blackspots. There needs to be a lot more flyovers. Oh, and better drivers.

10am means the sun shouldn't have been too low and in the eyes, a 50yo driver shouldn't have been so young they're getting eyesight or judgement problems, and there's no information given about who was doing what. As a motorcyclist, it's far too easy to put all blame on a driver who wasn't paying attention.

Apart from that, an okay article.

The ABC also covered it, same day - Motorcyclist killed on Warrego Highway.

Less information, nothing to complain about. Except the usual "her motorbike collided with" humanising of machines.

So, that's November out of the way. Again.

Leaping straight into December 1 with Crash survivor faces jail from the QT.

Apart from a confusing opening par, this one confuses me in general.

There's no mention of how the speed of "about 100kmh" (shouldn't that be km/h?) was judged, and I'm always confused when I see that someone who was unlicensed has had their licence suspended.

I would also dearly love to know how magistrates react when they hear someone has "struggled for many years with alcohol issues but was now getting counselling." My instinct would be to give them a harder penalty for not having sought help sooner for something that encourages illegal behaviours.

There is a whole other, highly entertaining, argument around whether psychiatric disorders, mental health conditions or substance use/addictive behaviour problems are "explanations", "mitigating factors" or "excuses", in decreasing order of personal responsibility. From my experience after nearly a decade working with people with various behaviour-modifying conditions, the professional viewpoint is: "You know you have {condition}, you know what it does, you have a responsibility to get help. If you can't control yourself in this service, get out."

Getting back to the article - there's some clunky sentence structures, but it reads less like a list of facts than most court reports do, and I only have one other quibble: Was it really necessary to write "Shaking her head, Magistrate Donna  MacCallum sentenced ... "?

At this point, I'd like to point out that there was a rash of reporting: Reader still has six items with a date stamp of December 1. Now, some of those may have been starred on December 1 but have been published earlier, still in November.

There are some double-ups and some running stories and I'd like to keep those together, so I'll do one more in this entry and it's from December 5, from the ABC: Motorbike rider dies on sand dunes.

It's a simple and straightforward report, and the only quibble I have is punctuation: In the second paragraph there should probably either be a second comma after Perth to close a subordinate clause, or no comma at all and run the sentence on. I would go with an Oxford double comma bracketing the clause, myself, but ABC style is to minimise commas where possible.

Today's lesson is: There are some really dangerous road users out there.

No comments:

Search This Blog