Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Ninth Report

The media and the motor industry


117. Many witnesses praised the local media. In general they were seen as responsible, putting forward local people's concerns about speed. The Association of Chief Police Officers informed us that the local press had been giving great support to the safety camera scheme. Its analysis showed that 90 per cent of local press reports were positive, six per cent were neutral and only four per cent negative.[199]


118. In contrast, we received many criticisms of the national media and the motor industry. The main criticisms were that:

- speeding is glamourised

- vehicles are manufactured capable of speeds far in excess of the speed limit; and

- issues related to speed are reported from the point of view of the inconvenience to the speeding motorist rather than the dead pedestrian.

The portrayal of speed

119. Sustrans informed us:

"TV Advertising is more worrying as it often not only portrays cars invading the countryside but almost never shows any other road users and certainly not those on foot or cycle. This contributes to the impressions that speeding has no consequences as there is no one else out there. We suggest that the Committee ask for a six month monitoring of this issue".[200]

Motoring programmes were also criticised: they emphasise cars' 'performance', which seems to be a more acceptable way of saying speed and acceleration. 'Top Gear' was singled out as 'highly irresponsible'.[201]

The Motor Industry

120. Witnesses were concerned both about the way the motor industry marketed cars, and because they were manufactured to be capable of speeds far in excess of the motorway speed limit.[202] RoSPA informed us that:

"manufacturers continue to produce cars and motorcycles that are capable of achieving speeds of 160 mph and more. RoSPA believes that the European Commission, national governments and the motor industry should work together to develop restrictions on the top speeds and power of new cars and motorcycles".[203]

News reporting

121. While there is a great deal of advertising of, and programmes devoted to, the glamour of "high-performance cars, the national media pays little attention to deaths and serious injuries on the roads, even those of children. In fact, the reverse is true. Speeding is seen from point of view of the driver who is inconvenienced not from that of a dead child or his parents. Campaigns are waged against safety measures such as safety cameras and traffic calming schemes. Nottingham City Council referred to the hostility of some of the national papers to speed enforcement, speed cameras and traffic calming.[204]


122. We received memoranda from several branches of the media: the BBC, the ITC and the ASA, and from the motor manufacturers. The ITC informed us that it received few complaints in relation to high speed driving, and added:

"As to the motoring programmes our experience is that they take care not to encourage high speed driving on the roads. Sometimes the limit of a car's road-holding, acceleration and braking may be tested, but this is almost invariably done off-road circuit".[205]

123. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders emphasised that the motor industry placed the highest priority on safety and had made progressive improvements in the design and structure of its products; it took every care to ensure that vehicles are appropriately represented in advertising materials, and strongly supported the existing regulatory regime, which had demonstrated its effectiveness.[206]

124. The BBC stressed that the organisation behaved responsibly. Although the BBC Producers' Guidelines did not specifically refer to speed, one of their core editorial values was to "try and ensure that any life threatening, anti-social or criminal behaviour portrayed in BBC programmes does not encourage copycat actions".[207] The BBC's Programme Complaints Unit has so far upheld no complaint about inappropriate speed in a BBC programme. The organisation was very happy with its motoring programmes. Part of their editorial brief "was to be an authority on all aspects of the cars they tested: performance was a vital part of the assessment of any car".[208]

125. However, the memorandum gave no indication that the BBC did anything to promote responsible attitudes to speed. The view seemed to be: "We're behaving responsibly; it's not for us to change attitudes to speed". There was no mention that addressing problems of speed and road safety might be part of the Public Service Broadcasting Remit, and no discussion of why road deaths and road safety are not widely reported.


126. There are a number of possible reasons for the media's attitudes. First, it seems that so many people are killed on the roads that it is not news - if fewer died it would be news. This is one of the key difference between road and rail crashes.

127. Secondly, there is a strong link between the media and car advertising. Indeed, the media is very dependent on car advertising. In 2000 total expenditure on 'motoring' display adverts in national newspapers was £307 million, 12.2% of the total.[209] 15 of the top 50 advertisers in national newspapers in 2000 were car manufacturers.[210]


128. The portrayal of cars in the media plays a part in the public's view that speeding is a trivial offence. Its campaigns against safety cameras and traffic calming are in danger of undermining key planks of the Government's safety policy. A few organisations argued that such campaigns did nothing more than reflect public opinion. The RAC Foundation stated:

"e-mails, letters and telephone calls to the RAC Foundation suggests that there is a growing level of cynicism among motorists of all groups that central and local Government road safety strategy and police enforcement activity has become disproportionately concentrated on excess speed. ...There is a widespread and growing perception among motorists and sections of the media ... that speed camera deployment is as, or more, motivated by their revenue raising capacity as by considerations of road user safety".

The RAC Foundation, however, added that this view might not be correct.[211]

129. In contrast, the majority of the evidence which we received argued the opposite case - that campaigns against safety measures did not represent public opinion. The Association of Chief Police Officers memo notes "There is a wealth of information to show that the public do in fact support the use of safety cameras in this way".[212] However, there is concern that the campaigns will have an effect on public opinion and are already affecting Government policy:

"The tabloid press and some individual motoring correspondents have waged a vigorous campaign to reduce speed enforcement on the grounds that compliance with the law constitutes an unacceptable constraint on motorists" freedom ...tabloid press coverage has created a climate in which it is more difficult for the Government to reduce speed limits and in some cases has constrained the ability of local authorities to introduce calming ...we do not believe that the pro speed views expressed by tabloid newspapers are representative of the views of society as a whole. We are concerned that their repetition may make them widespread. We believe that the often one-sided coverage of this issue is highly irresponsible and we do not believe Ministers should be swayed by it".[213]

The Association of Chief Police Officers believes that the Government may now be affected by the relentless media campaign: it is concerned that "some in Government seemed more worried by the ill informed and erroneous position taken by a very small but vociferous section of the national press than by public opinion or even by the facts".[214]

130. The failure to take road safety in general and speed in particular seriously has important effects. We would have expected campaigns to be mounted to reduce so tragic and avoidable form of death and serious injury. There are many opportunities for all parts of the media to do this; unfortunately, some elements in the press do the reverse: they rail against the very measures designed to reduce speed and save lives. The evidence to this inquiry shows that there are serious concerns about the link between motor industry advertising and journalism. We are also concerned that the BBC has done so little to promote road safety in pursuance of its general public service obligation.

131. However, during this inquiry we have had no opportunity to put the criticisms we have received to representatives of the media or the motor industry. These issues need to be considered in more detail. We hope that the new Transport Committee will investigate them.

199   RTS 137. Back

200   RTS 18. Back

201   RTS 1; the programme is no longer shown on the BBC. Back

202   RoSPA added"Motor manufacturers, national press, tv and advertisers should not glamourise speed as exciting and exhilarating nor as normal behaviour. See also RTS 2,Crewe and Nantwich Local Agenda 21 Group, Back

203   RTS 16. Back

204   RTS 9. Back

205   RTS 5. Back

206   RTS 140. Back

207   RTS 7. Back

208   Idem.. Back

209   The media pocketbook 2001, The Advertising Association Back

210   Idem Back

211   RTS 6. Back

212   RTS 137. Back

213   RTS 8 Back

214   RTS 137 Back

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