The public must be able to depend on police and news media to report facts much like Sergeant Joe Friday in the 1950s and 60s TV show “Dragnet”. “Just the facts ma’am” was a popular phrase attached to Jack Webb, the actor who portrayed Friday. While it was a fictional account of police objectivity and unbiased professionalism, such aspects can be used in real life to focus present day police and news media in their communications with the public. Increasingly police and news media appear to be falling into the modern era of stretching the truth to convey some message rather than simply reporting facts. After all, this is the era of Donald Trump and the era of “alternative facts”.
As an example, a collision occurred near Simcoe, Ontario, just after midnight (this morning) involving two vehicles that crashed at the intersection of Concession 14 Townsend Township and Blueline Road. The OPP photo below, was shown on their Twitter account and was used in London Free Press article entitled “Seatbelts likely saved drivers in destructive Simcoe Crash: OPP”.
Certainly the pictured vehicle has sustained a major impact. But what makes it stand out to the degree that it must be singled out from others? Why is this particular collision representative of a situation where seatbelts worked to save lives in comparison to any other major collision? Looking at all the visible damage the average person would conclude, yes, it must be so because the OPP and the news media said it was so. However the photo fails to show other parts of the vehicle that would give a better indication of the severity of the crash.
There was a second photo shown on the OPP Twitter account and this is shown below.
This second photo was not used in the London Free Press article yet it would have illustrated the truth more clearly. Yes, there was substantial frontal damage, but the “greenhouse” area, where the occupants are seated, was intact. The roof, A-pillars were not displaced rearward that there was no evidence of structural intrusion into the occupant space.
And a third photo from the OPP Twitter account showed the other vehicle, as shown below.
It is the second and third OPP photos, that were not used in the London Free Press article, that showed the truth.
This was a typical angle collision that occurs at rural intersections where both vehicles are travelling at substantial speed. In these instances there is a “front impacting” and a “side impacted” vehicle. In other words the front of one vehicle, almost invariably, strikes the side of the other vehicle. In this instance, the front of the white car struck the side of the red car. But the important fact is that the red car was struck in the right front fender. If that impact had been to the right front door massive structural intrusion could have occurred, the upper torso of the driver of the red car could have slipped out of the shoulder belt and the driver could have died from head trauma, regardless of seatbelt use. These are the kinds of details that do not match the simple storyline that seatbelts save lives so they are not discussed.
When an impact like this occurs the two vehicles enter into a rotation after the initial impact such that the sides of the two vehicles “slap” together before being sent toward their separate directions to final rest. This slapping together is a secondary impact that we have coined as “kissing” in the sense that, upon leaving, one kisses to say goodbye.
Invariably this secondary impact is such that the rear of the left side of the “front impacting” vehicle (i.e. the white car) makes contact with the right-rear corner of the “side impacted” vehicle (i.e. red car). After observing hundreds of similar situations one can detect a variety of “points of mutual contact” whereby you can follow the progress of contact between the two vehicles as they move from initial contact, through rotation, into secondary contact and toward separation, with surprising detail.
The point to be made with this collision is that it was not miraculous that the drivers survived. It just happened to be circumstance and, oh yes, it happened because both drivers were wearing their seatbelts, as claimed.
The purpose our comments is not to disparage the notion that seatbelts save lives. This fact has been proven over and over and over again. Seatbelts save lives. They also reduce the severity of injuries. In almost all instances seatbelts are a benefit to all occupants of almost all vehicles. However the present collision shown in the OPP photos is not unique in demonstrating that seatbelts save lives. It is no different than the thousands of serious collisions that are reported each year. When this collision is used as a marketing ploy to generate seatbelt use it can backfire. When the police and news media use situations like these to push a certain agenda, well-intended as it may be, it creates doubts in those conspiracy theorists who have an intense need to detect anything that might be suspicious and those doubts are passed on through social media like a leap-frogging virus that listens to no reason. It is of utmost importance that police and news media report the facts, and the facts only, at times when the public expects just the facts. There can be occasions when editorialising and opinion can be used when it is properly advertised as such and it can be supported by objective fact. Police and news media have a special obligation, unlike other parties, to take care not to stray into the swamps of idle opinion because the reputations of these institutions are so important to the proper functioning of our society.