Words matter, and the word “accident” is not the right one to describe a car crash, according to a recent article on DC Streets Blog. By referring to a car crash as an “accident,” the phrasing creates the implication that no one was to blame for the collision. The reality, however, is that car accidents don’t just occur at random. Someone almost always makes a bad decision, breaks a safety rule or takes an unnecessary risk before the wreck occurs. The collision, therefore, is not an accident but is the direct result of the decision made by one or more of the drivers.
An injury attorney in Fort Myers knows that determining fault in traffic collisions is crucial because the driver who is at fault or who made the decision that led to the accident is held legally liable and can be required to pay damages to victims. Even if a collision is referred to as an “accident,” the law says that the person who caused it is culpable. Since the law recognizes that accidents have causes, and since the use of words can shape public opinion on an issue, discussing an end to the use of the term “accident,” is a worthwhile cause.
Why Not Use Accident to Describe Collisions?
The use of the term “accident” to describe a car wreck is “part of a cultural permissiveness toward dangerous driving, which in turn contributes to loss of life.”
When a collision is referred to as an accident, our choice of vocabulary is letting the at-fault driver off the hook since the term doesn’t convey that the drive made conscious choices that led to the crash. The use of the term “accident” and not collision could also reduce support for investigating causal factors of crashes and for determining and imposing potential solutions to reduce the risk of car crashes.
Some police departments have already dropped the term accident from their lexicon and no longer use it to describe collisions. The New York Police Department adopted a policy not to refer to crashes as accidents in 2013, and the San Francisco Police Department followed suit and also made a similar change.
Major news publications, however, still tend to use the word “accident,” and thus contribute to the overall perception of crashes as something that just happen. The DC Streets blog suggests that the best way to prompt a change by the press is for the Associated Press style guide to make clear that the proper term to use is “collision” and not accident.
The AP Style Guide is the definitive guide for journalists and does not currently specify the appropriate descriptor for collisions. In a supplemental “Ask the Editor” guide, the AP advises against the use of the term “accident” because it suggests a conclusion. However, at several points in the style guide, the AP itself uses the word “accident,” to illustrate other stylistic points.
Changing these examples and including a formal entry addressing the use of the term “accident” could change the way that collisions are written about and could go a long way towards encouraging society to rightfully recognize traffic violence as a critical public-safety issue.
Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, is a law firm dedicated to representing the injured in personal injury and wrongful death claims in South Florida. Call today for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case. 1-800-283-2900.
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