Public and political perception of risk: Injury prevention implications

Unfortunately in Australia in the last week, two men have died as a result of shark bites. The media response, which by no means is unique in these cases, has been overwhelming, with responses ranging from the call to kill the offending sharks (despite protestations of the family, for example see http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-12-01/search-for-shark-that-killed-bodyboarder-zac-young/5127228), and increasing the range of shark netting (despite the widespread death of other sea creatures, see http://www.smh.com.au/environment/marine-ecologists-urge-rethink-of-shark-netting-after-fatal-attack-20131202-2ym2x.html).

Unfortunately in Queensland, Australia, in the last year, 252 people have died as a result of a road crash. Using crude maths, this is nearly five people a week in one state alone. The media response, which by no means is unique in each of these cases, has been underwhelming. The names, locations, circumstances, perspectives of family members, political and policy responses remain unknown for these five people.

As an Australian, I know the details of each shark death. As a Queenslander, I know no details of each road death.

Coming from a social psychology epistemology as I work in injury prevention, I find this huge disconnect alarming. Is it that we are used to people being killed in a road crash? Is it that a road crash is a less scary way to die, when compared to being bitten by a shark? Even in the Decade of Action for Road Safety, and in comparison to the shark-related deaths, the story of these latest five people remains unknown, the media remain relatively silent, politicians remain unswayed, policy and practice remains unchanged, and the systemic risks which contributed to these deaths remain unidentified and unchallenged.

How do injury prevention professionals move forward? I remain perplexed, but I am tenacious and will persist in my determination to keep young driver road safety on the agenda and actually reduce their toll of injury and death.

 

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