Blame-the-Victim Policy Narratives And Local-Level Transportation Policy

Despite the tremendous amount of dollars invested in research to improve the understanding of what works to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety, often nonrational forces shape the policy decisions that occur at the local level. Policy narratives, defined as value-laden, stories, images, and metaphors, are one force that exerts a powerful influence on policy decision-making and may help to explain why scientific knowledge and expertise does not always influence what happens on the streets of local communities. The purpose of this research is to understand the effects of policy narratives on local-level transportation policy decisions to improve the safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. The research aims to understand if a relationship exists between a particular policy narrative, which casts pedestrians and bicyclists as “guilty victims” versus “innocent victims”, and the policies used to improve safety in local communities. Narratives that blame bicyclists and pedestrians for not behaving appropriately, i.e., not taking safety precautions or causing crashes, do much more than tell a story. Testimonials from bicycling advocacy groups reveal the prevalence of policy narratives that adopt a “blame the victim” story line and portray bicyclists and pedestrians as “guilty victims”. The narratives define the problem not as one of motorist behavior or the transportation infrastructure, but rather the fault of the nonmotorized party. Victim-blaming can result in policy decisions that compromise the safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. The research will also identify strategies and tools that can be utilized to improve the information that is used to policy outcomes. Regression analysis will be used to test several research hypotheses to determine if a statistical association exists between the type of narratives that emerge in a given locality and the policy outcomes that result. Nine years of coded crash and policy data will be collected from a random sample of 50 localities across the United States will be analyzed, controlling for other economic, political and local factors that may influence policy decisions. Interview data, collected from a subset of local bicycle and pedestrian safety advocates and experts, will be analyzed to identify strategies that can be used to improve the data that informs the framing of the problem.


  • English


  • Status: Completed
  • Funding: $120000
  • Contract Numbers:

    DTRT13-G-UTC60 TRC-16-07

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology

    University Transportation Centers Program
    Department of Transportation
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Managing Organizations:

    Transportation Research Center for Livable Communities

    Western Michigan University
    Kalamazoo, MI  United States  49009-5316

    Western Michigan University

    1903 W. Michigan Avenue
    Kalamazoo, MI  United States  49008-5241
  • Project Managers:

    Dunn, Denise

  • Performing Organizations:

    Transportation Research Center for Livable Communities

    Western Michigan University
    Kalamazoo, MI  United States  49009-5316

    University of Texas, Arlington

    Dept. of Civil Engineering
    Box 19308
    Arlington, TX  United States  76019
  • Principal Investigators:

    Casey, Colleen

    Mattingly, Stephen

  • Start Date: 20160901
  • Expected Completion Date: 20180331
  • Actual Completion Date: 20180531
  • USDOT Program: University Transportation Centers
  • Subprogram: Research

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01610410
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Center for Livable Communities
  • Contract Numbers: DTRT13-G-UTC60 TRC-16-07
  • Files: UTC, RiP
  • Created Date: Sep 9 2016 10:38AM