A Crash is No Accident

Why We Avoid Using the Term "Accident"

Its common in everyday conversation to refer to motor vehicle collisions as accidents.  Car accidents, motor vehicle accidents, pedestrian accidents, slip and fall accidents, the list goes on.  Most people use the term “accident” without reflecting on its true meaning.

The problem with the word “accident” is that it implies that the event occurred in the absence of cause or fault.  Referring to something as an accident implies that the thing could not have been avoided.  In reality, collisions and crashes can be avoided by employing safe driving techniques.  Most crashes occur when drivers are distracted (by phones, radio, etc.), impaired (alcohol, drugs, or lack of sleep), or fail to follow traffic laws (running a stop sign, speeding, etc.).  A crash caused by one of these things is no accident, it is the direct result of a driver’s negligent conduct.

Misuse of the term “accident” even prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration to take action.  In a letter to editors and correspondents, Mr. George Reagle, the Associate Administrator for Motor Carriers states that “the word ‘accident’ implies that these events are outside human influence or control.  In reality, they are predictable results of specific actions…Use of ‘accident’ fosters the idea that the resulting damage and injuries are unavoidable.”  Mr. Reagle further opines that “‘Crash,’ ‘collision,’ and ‘injury’ are more appropriate terms, and we encourage their use as substitutes for ‘accident.’”  Mr. Reagle notes that the Department’s Research and Special Programs Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have joined in declaring that the word “accident” should no longer be used in published materials, statements, or other communications.  Read Mr. Reagle’s letter here.

This issue also caught the attention of Ms. Nicole Norfleet, a writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  In an October 31, 2014 article titled “Is a car crash ever an accident?” Ms. Norfleet notes that the terms “accident” and “crash” are often used interchangeably.  However, Ms. Norfleet notes that the state Department of Public Safety has taken steps to use the term “crash” instead of “accident.”  Ms. Norfleet quoted Mr. Bruce Gordon, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, as saying that “[a]ccident implies that what occurs is random and there is no way anyone could have prevented it.”  In reality, drivers have choices to make, such as driving the speed limit and refraining from distracting activities while driving.  Read Ms. Norfleet’s article here.

Because of the unintended implications associated with the word, we at Simon Law Office avoid calling injuries “accidents.”  Instead, we use the terms that Mr. Reagle suggested in his letter: “crash,” “collision,” and “injury.”  Crashes, and the resulting injuries and damages, are preventable by employing safe driving habits.  Crashes are not accidents.

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