Author(s): Deanne Daigle, Jane Seeley, Evelyn Vingilis
Dr. Charles H. Miller Award
Background: Surveys of Canadians consistently find that street racing is a serious concern. Yet, very little objective evidence on the prevalence of street racing and the extent of negative consequences exists to inform the opinions of Canadians. Despite the lack of official data, from 2002-2008 a number of Canadian provinces and the federal government amended and introduced new provisions to their street racing legislation.
Newspaper framing of motor vehicle collisions has been shown to be highly skewed, and how the press frame street racing informs public perceptions of the severity and nature of this issue. Newspaper reports cannot be used to estimate the prevalence of street racing incidents nor the contribution of street racing to motor vehicle casualties; however, they can provide information on what content the public is obtaining on the topic.
Aims: This study examined newspaper coverage of street racing across the country.
Methods: The term “street racing” was used to search Proquest’s Canadian Newsstand Major Dailies database for articles published between November 1, 2006 and October 31, 2008. Ontario introduced new street racing legislation in 2007; thus this timeframe was chosen in the aim of capturing the prevalence, slant and themes of articles from different provinces during this period. An ethnographic content analysis was conducted in which a template analysis style was used to code and analyze the data. Article data were imported into NVivo9 software.
Results: Our search strategy yielded 351 articles. The majority of the articles (74.64%) were published in Ontario and British Columbia. Fifty-eight percent were episodic and 11.68% were thematic. Most articles (58.02%) had a neutral slant; however of those articles that did have a slant, 95.16% of the episodic articles and 36.0% of the thematic articles were slanted positively towards having street racing legislation. The majority of episodic articles (53.3%) described a collision of which 74.1% resulted in victim fatalities, 49.3% described street racing offences, while 2.6% involved both. Common characteristics of episodic street racing articles included victims who were middle-aged males, while the perpetrators were typically young males between the ages of 16 and 24. Street racing legislation was a recurrent theme in thematic articles (51.2%) with the majority of articles coming from Ontario. Specific aspects of the law that were commonly debated in Ontario newspapers included licence suspension and vehicle seizure. The provinces that did not have street racing legislation did not contribute many articles overall, but what was published discussed concern about how to deal with the issue of street racing.
Discussion: The majority of street racing articles were published in Ontario and British Columbia and focussed on collisions, fatalities and street racing offences with particular emphasis on sensational cases. Thematic articles centred on the legislative debate in their respective provinces. In the absence of official statistics, the media’s presentation of street racing may be shaping public perceptions and the political agenda. Limitations of the study include the use of daily newspapers only thereby omitting the opinions from other types and levels of media coverage.