Don’t Call Them “Accidents” Anymore

Posted By on May 24, 2016 | 0 comments


Car Wreck fatalities are soaring at their highest rate in 50 years, from driver caused crashes, collisions and other incidents. The National Safety Council’s preliminary estimates indicate deadly crashes rose by nearly 8% in 2015 over the previous year, killing about 38,000 people.

23crash-web1-master768A growing number of safety advocates, grass-roots groups, federal, state and local officials trying to change a 100-year-old mentality that trivializes the most common cause of traffic wrecks: Human Error.

Using the word “accident”, makes it sound like “God made it happen,” Mark Rosekind, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said this month at the Harvard School of Public Health. “In our society,” “language can be everything.” Almost all auto wrecks are caused by driver behavior such as: drinking, distracted driving and other risky activity. (think cell phone use!). Only about 6% are caused by vehicle malfunctions, weather and other factors.

Changing semantics is intended to shake people and policy makers out of the implicit nobody’s-fault attitude that the word “accident” conveys. At least 28 state departments of transportation moved away from the term “accident” when referring to roadway incidents. The traffic safety administration changed its own policy in 1997, but has recently become more vocal about the issue.

Drop The A Word” is a campaign to get major media outlets to stop using the term. When negligence is claimed or proven in a car crash, reporters should avoid “accident”, which is read by some as exonerating the responsible person.

In early 1900s the term “accident” was first introduced into the lexicon by manufacturers and other industries. Companies wanted to protect themselves from the costs of caring for workers injured on the job. Safety campaigns called the events “accidents”, to excuse employer responsibility.

Then traffic deaths spiked in the 1920s. Auto-industry interests and insurers borrowed the term “accident” to shift the focus from the cars themselves. Automakers wanted to blame reckless drivers. But over time, the word “accident” came to exonerate the driver, with the “accident” being made out to be beyond anyone’s control. The word “accident” is seen as normalizing mass death on the roads. Advocates want to use the word “crash” to recognize the enormity of the catastrophe.

Aggrieved families have started grass-roots efforts to call roadway incidents “crashes not accidents” so that drivers in deadly wrecks are not given the presumption of innocence, .. just because they lived to tell their side of the story.  NYT 5/23/16

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