In the last 50 years, automobile fatalities have increased year after year. The National Safety Council reported that deadly incidents rose by nearly 8% in 2015 alone. Despite the severity of these events, many still label these as car “accidents.” Now more than ever before, there is a large push from safety advocates, federal officials, and state and local leaders to change the mentality of citizens and promote the use of the word car “crash.”
Car Crashes Are Not Always Accidents: Acknowledging Accountability
Many argue that the word suggests an unforeseen and unpreventable act. Mark Rosekind, head of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, believes, “when you use the word ‘accident,’ it’s like, ‘God made it happen.’” Caroline Samponaro of Transportation Alternatives agreed, stating that using “accident” suggests “an act of God,” the “equivalent to spilling milk.” She continued by arguing, “That’s not what a car crash is. There’s always a human choice behind any crash.” Amy Cohen, whose twelve year old son was hit and killed by an automobile, believes using the word accident implies nothing could have been done to prevent it.
These individuals may be right. According to Michael Pines, an accident and injury prevention expert in San Diego, (1) distracted driving, (2) speeding, and (3) drunk driving are the top three causes of car crashes in America. All three of these scenarios are deliberate and avoidable acts taken by the driver.
Law and policy makers are also picking up on the controversy and have made attempts to change how we describe these situations. So far at least 28 state departments of transportation have moved away from the term “accident” when referring to automobile incidents. New York City and San Francisco have also agreed that they “must no longer regard traffic crashes as mere ‘accidents’,” and have taken steps to change this habit.
According to the Associated Press, their Style Book now recommends the word “crash” when negligence is claimed or proven, and should “avoid accident, which can be read by some as a term exonerating the person responsible.” Many advocates of this movement saw the A.P.’s policy change as a major win for their cause. Although many other news sources like the New York Times, has not taken a stand on this issue, advocates hope that the A.P.’s policy change will influence others to do the same.
But others do not seem to agree with this movement. Katy Waldman, a writer for Slate, disagrees with the use of the word crash for a number of reasons. One such reason was that using the word “crash” automatically places guilt on a person, who should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. For this reason she believes the term “accident” is more appropriate. Of course, advocates were quick to counter Waldman and argued that the term “crash” is in fact a neutral term, where blame may or may not be placed, where as “accident” never places blame.
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Whichever side you choose, everyone can agree that vehicular and pedestrian safety is an issue that we must tackle as a community. By coming together, we can make a difference and help prevent senseless car crashes in the future.
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 Krithika Varagur, We’ve Been Brainwashed Into Saying ‘Car Accident’, The Huffington Post (May 20, 2016).
 Michael Pines, Top 3 Causes of Car Accidents in America, drivers.com (Feb. 19, 2013).
 Matt Richtel, It’s No Accident: Advocates Want to Speak of Car ‘Crashes’ Instead, New York Times (May 22, 2016).
 Varagur, supra note 1.