Why Crash Not Accident Language Matters
“It was an accident!”
The words we choose to describe things have an incredible influence on others’ perceptions of the world around us. “Accident” implies nothing could be done to stop the incident. It also suggests that there was no fault and that the outcome couldn’t have been foreseen.
The media’s pervasive use of the word “accident” has desensitized the public to the reality of drivers running their cars into things – including pedestrians and people on bikes. Instead of employing defensive driving principles, some drivers feel red lights and speed limits are suggestions, that slowing in school zones is inconvenient, or that the roads are paid for exclusively by motorists so only motor vehicles should be on the road. (Spoiler: they aren’t!)
A “crash” is when a vehicle, driven by a person, collides violently with an obstacle or another vehicle. It doesn’t absolve anyone of fault; it evaluates the details of what happened. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 94% of all crashes are the result of human error. This would include the intersection design, lane markings, as well as every participant’s placement and actions. Blame is assigned based on the facts. Consequences are handed out. Being a licensed driver is a privilege, not a right because any driver has the potential to injure or kill.
NYBC is calling upon the media to use “crashes”, not “accidents” when reporting on traffic incidents involving bicyclists or pedestrians. The AP Stylebook recommends the use of crash language when negligence is claimed or proven. Even in articles about crash not accident language, journalists attribute a death to the vehicle: “Her 12-year-old son was hit and killed by a van on the street in front of their home in 2013.”
Here’s just one recent example of an egregious use of “accident” language. The New York Daily News published an article about a recent crash and said this:
Go back and read that again.
The car was cited. As far as we know, self-driving cars are not publicly available yet so presumably, the car is not making the decision to speed in school zones or run red lights.
The New York State DMV still refers to motorist incident reports as “Accident Reports.” At the 2017 Bike Summit, our audience heard DMV leadership unequivocally state that our traffic laws must reflect crash, not accident, language – but this must be done through the legislative process.
We need this change NOW to hold drivers accountable for their actions! Send a letter to your state legislator (find yours here) and ask for an update to the vehicle and traffic statutes to reflect Crash, not Accident language.