Where’s the data in 4×4 safety claims?

Headlines screaming “” and 4x4s ‘twice as likely’ to roll in crashes contrast with claims 4x4s and MPVs ARE safer.  Classic case of rhetoric, with the  press release unsurprisingly supporting the vehicles? 

With both sides referencing an independent study for the Highways Agency by the Transport Research Laboratory (trl), it should be easy to check the original source for myself, I thought.  (Classic argument of the rhetorical approach to public relations that the public make up their own mind after listening to all sides in a debate)

No links to the original report in any of the media reports or SMMT’s press release.  And no press release or study to be found on the website, nor in the online newsroom. 

The media reports all appear to be driven by a common source (a press release or newswire, I imagine), so did any of the journalists writing their headlines review the report?  What about SMMT – can it confirm the data supports its viewpoint?   

Most likely, the public will believe the screaming headlines as it fits with the stereotype.  I would prefer to see public relations practitioners and media being more open with the source of stories – it couldn’t be easier with online links and websites.  It is ridiculous that press releases aren’t available online – even worse that reports such as this cannot be easily found.

Rhetoric?  More like propaganda if the public aren’t able to make up their own mind.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

3 thoughts on “Where’s the data in 4×4 safety claims?”

  1. As a journalism student I was frequently reminded, as were my class mates, about the serious matter of writing about research that couldn’t be substantiated by a specific reference. Our lecturer was old school and a history nut, he’d crack jokes about “sticking ones head above the parapet,” was a dangerous game if we couldn’t back up our facts.

    Are journos today on such a tight deadline that they take as gospel stuff like this or is quality journalism slipping….I think it may be the latter – sadly.

  2. Anti-4×4 propaganda is rife. We’re in the process of looking for a new car and despite liking a number of mid-size 4x4s initially ruled them out on environmental grounds. Except when I actually looked at the emissions it wasn’t true. Several of my none 4×4 alternatives actually had higher emissions. So now the question is do we risk the wrath of the anti-4×4 brigade by going for the lower emission 4×4 option, or get the higher emission alternative and be seen to be doing the right thing (even though it’s not!) It’s also interesting that high emission sports cars get a free ride, despite only have two seats making the average emission per person even higher.

  3. Jill – I fear you are right and that time pressures on journalists make it easier to reproduce press releases rather than check facts, especially if the contents fit with topical stereotypes, so will get attention. This reinforces the general public’s lack of ability to understand complex issues as Stuart illustrates.

    There is so much mis-information regarding 4x4s – both in terms of emissions and size. My neighbour has a Volvo estate and swears it has a smaller road-print a 4×4, when it actually does not.

    The anti-4×4 groups like many others claim a higher ground for their cause and anyone who opposes their often hysterical and aggressive position is accused of being in the pocket of business or ironically “ignorant”. I also find tactics that target individual motorists offensive. You should not feel intimidated but I understand how the social norm is very powerful.

    It also ignores the fact that in many places 4x4s are very useful (such as for my parents who live in the mountains in France where the weather is often bad) – and the humanitarian and other NGOs who rely on these vehicles around the world. Let alone the jobs at LandRover, one of the UK’s few remaining vehicle manufacturers.

    I agree on the sports car front – I pay a higher road tax for my Mercedes SLK, but fortunately don’t get grief from the antis. Not that I want it though.

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