When is a Car Accident Not an Accident?

In everyday speech we use the terms “car crash” and “traffic accident” interchangeably. But are they in fact the same thing?

Some definitions of the word “accident:”

  • An unfortunate happening, one that is unintentional
  • An unexpected event, one which happens without plan or cause
  • In law, something that happens which causes injury, but which is in no way the fault of the injured person

Firefighters-Saving-Woman-In-CarSo, when a drunk driver crashes, is it a car accident? Not according to the definitions above. Anyone who drinks and drives is engaging in a practice known to be lethal. Therefore, a crash by a drunk driver is a logical, if not inevitable conclusion.

A battle is going on to change the way we speak and write, and thus the way we think. The Minneapolis Star Tribune is considering a change to their style guide. It all started when the paper described as an accident a collision involving injury to a child by a reckless driver. Twitter reactions to the story were sharp: readers objected to the idea that the tragedy could not have been prevented.

A large group of road safety organizations wrote a letter to the Star-Tribune, affirming the need to end the use of the word “accident” for preventable crashes. Called Crash Coalition, the group minces no words:

Those who drive under the influence, distracted, or aggressively, among other behaviors, are consciously acting in a manner that is universally known to increase the chance of an event that could kill and injure innocent victims. Somehow the word “accident” doesn’t seem appropriate for such dangerous and reckless behavior.

In the UK, an organization called RoadPeace is taking up the cause. The points they want to drive home:

  • Crashes are still seen as unfortunate ‘accidents’, instead of preventable collisions
  • Society tolerates road death and disability as an acceptable price to pay for the convenience of cars
  • Crash victims do not have the same rights or support as other victims of crime or trauma

Accidents do happen, but they are rare. Most road collisions are preventable by driving at a proper speed, by staying alert and driving defensively, and of course, by not ever driving impaired.