Should We Say Car Crash or Car Accident?

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The Language We Use to Classify Auto Collisions can be Important

 Does it make a difference if we refer to a motor vehicle collision as an “accident” or a “crash”? According to a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the language we use matters. The article begins by looking at the Waze navigation app, which has the capacity to alert users to a motor vehicle crash and the distance of that crash from the user’s current location. For quite a while, Waze has notified users of delays due to crashes, yet it used to use a different word. Last year, Waze used the word “accident.” Now, the app uses the word “crash” instead.

What was the reason for the change? Jeff Larason, who is the director of highway safety for Massachusetts, has been working for quite a while to urge apps and other devices to stop using the word “accident” when it comes to reporting a car crash. Larason is not alone. For instance, Candace Lightner, the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), agrees. Why do they oppose the use of the word “accident”? As the article clarifies, “if a drunk or distracted driver plows into another vehicle, they argue, how accidental is that?” Larason goes on to say that the word “accident” should not be used because it “wrongly implies that human decisions and actions have nothing to do with it.”

Larason and Lightner have begun a campaign that is getting noticed. Their work dovetails with that of the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), which has been working to use the word “crash” instead of “accident” since the 1990s. To date, 30 states in the U.S. have agreed to stop using the word “accident” in statistical reports about collisions. Major U.S. cities are on board, too. For example, safety plans in New York City emphasized how the “City of New York must no longer regard traffic crashes as mere ‘accidents,’ but rather as preventable incidents that can be systematically addressed.”

Getting the Facts About Car Crashes

When we talk about “accidents,” we often assume that they happen without human intention, or sometimes even without human involvement. By avoiding this word and replacing it with “crash” or “collision,” it may become clearer that motor vehicle crashes occur for a reason and that they are preventable. More often than not, a driver’s behavior—and the driver’s decision to engage in that behavior, such as distracted or drowsy driving—causes collisions. How often do these avoidable crashes happen?

 NHTSA provides the following statistics:

  • There was a 7.2% increase in fatal motor vehicle crashes between 2014 and 2015;
  • SUV fatalities rose by 382 (or 10.1%);
  • Van occupant fatalities increased by 9.3%;
  • Passenger car deaths rose by 5.7%, or 681 fatalities;
  • Crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver rose by 3.2% in that period; and
  • Motor vehicle collision injuries increased drastically—by 105,000.

If you or someone you love sustained injuries in a motor vehicle crash, contact a car crash lawyer to discuss your situation and determine your rights.

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