Sarah Beth Costello
April 14, 2009
The collapse of a Minnesota bridge in 2007 was a tragedy that resulted in the loss of lives, however, the event spurred reporters into some serious investigations that led to the discoveries of thousands of unsafe bridges.
Unbeknownst to some, dozens of tools exist for investigating transportation. Journalists took advantage of these sources after the collapse of the Minnesota bridge to probe further at faulty infrastructures countrywide.
Brant Houston spends an entire chapter of “The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook” discussing the investigation of transportation. He states that there are two methods for investigating transportation: in the event of an accident or catastrophe (like the Minnesota bridge), or before the occurrence of the accident or catastrophe. In any case, before is always better. But sometimes, an investigation is not even perceived as necessary until tragedy strikes.
According to Houston, journalists need to answer to big probing questions as well as the normal, day-to-day questions:
• Which streets or highways have the highest accident rates?
• Which local railroad crossing is the most dangerous?
• Which airport has the highest rate of near misses between planes?
• On what lake do most boating accidents occur?
(“The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook”, Chapter 19, page 450)
Investigating Car Safety
Each year, thousands die in automobile accidents. Many reporters choose to investigate this chosen form of transportation for this very reason. Reporters can discover the safety of cars through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
This agency possesses a lot of power and is responsibility for issuing standards and making sure that manufacturers are producing safe vehicles. The agency also keeps a database that keeps track of paper documents, including recalls, complaints, inspections etc.
Car inspections and driving records are other documents available to reporters investigating land transportation. These sources enable reporters to read background information about drivers. Driver licenses documents, test results, tickets and accident reports are also available, revealing the entire driving history of an individual.
Many investigations focus on accidents involving drunk drivers. Houston says that an investigation on drunk driving should not only encompass those involved and the incident, but also the measure taken to prevent the incident from happening again. Some questions that should be answered include: was the driver temporarily suspended from driving, was his or her license revoked…?
In February 2009, the Burlington Times-News reported a hit-and-run accident involving a drunk driver and a teenager. The driver claimed to have hit the teenager without realizing it and called 911 after discovering a dent in his car. The driver’s blood alcohol level exceeded the legal limit, and he was apparently intoxicated to the extent that he was not coherent when he hit a 16 year-old boy.
This is a tragic example of the hundreds of accidents that occur yearly due to irresponsibility and recklessness. These incidents spur reporters into investigations in attempts to report the truth and attempt to prevent similar accidents from reoccurring.
Investigating Trucks, Buses and Taxis
Trucks are also under the scrutiny of reporters investigating land transportation. Many auto accidents involve trucks. Houston said that many truck accidents are the result of tired and weary drivers. Other problems with truckers include the dodging of weigh stations and the lack of tire flaps and other necessities that can prove dangerous to other drivers.
The investigation of buses includes school buses, charter buses and commercial buses. When investigating buses, it is important to check out the safety record of a particular bus, which can be found on the Web sites of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Also look into the local state department of transportation to discover regulations.
Houston says that investigating taxi services can never be repeated enough. Taxis are known for scams, as well as illegal driving. Reporters have discovered rigged meters that jack up charges for taxi riders, “broken” meters used to scam customers into paying more for services, drivers giving the impression of being lost in order to keep the meter running and “racial, ethnic, physical and geographic discrimination by taxi drivers.
Taxi drivers are not known for safe driving either, as many are often in a hurry and have become accustomed to maneuvering in and out of other vehicles. Here is an example of a taxi driver in Cartagena, Colombia – a city with a different set of traffic laws than those of the U.S. It is apparent that this driver will do whatever it takes to make it to his final destination:
9/11 was a wake up call to many Americans of the necessary safety precautions needed for aviation transportation. Before the tragedy, airlines were much more lax in regards to airport protocol. Aviation is still an important unit of transportation that undergoes investigation. Reporters look at safety precautions and the manufacturing of aircrafts.
Reporters should also investigate flight crews, specifically looking at the training, experience and background of the pilots. Air controllers and ground crews are equally as important when it comes to the safety of an aircraft. Air controllers are responsible for replacing tires, relaying information to pilots and keeping the computer equipment and radars up-to-date.