Is “Accident” The Best Way to Describe a Car Crash?

When you pick up the paper and read about traffic crashes, there is a good chance that you will find a news story that describes the crash as an "accident." While many people wouldn't think twice about the wording, some experts are arguing that the use of this term is not appropriate for traffic collisions because "accident" implies that the incident was a random and unpreventable occurrence. middle-of-the-road-1431571-m

In reality, personal injury attorneys in Galveston know that accidents are neither random nor unpreventable. They typically happen because one or more drivers failed to follow driving safety rules or because someone made a careless and unsafe choice. Because the term "accident" could suggest the conclusion that no one was to blame, the DC Streets Blog argues that the term "collision" should be used instead to describe crashes that occur.

Is Collision a Better Word Choice? 

Advocates argue collision is a better way to describe auto accidents because it is a "near perfect substitute for "accident," without implying a lack of causality." This distinction is an important one because words matter and because the use of the term accident may help to further cultural permissiveness towards dangerous driving behaviors.

Many major newspapers not only use the term 'accident' to describe collisions that occur when someone was clearly at fault for the crash, but even use it when a driver has killed someone else and is on trial for or has been convicted of vehicular manslaughter.  This description could have a "powerful effect" on how traffic crashes are perceived, and could actually reduce incentives to investigate causal factors of car accidents or to impose more societal pressure on drivers to be safer.

To facilitate the change to the use of the word "collision" instead of "accident," the DC Streets blog suggests that the Associated Press alter the official Associated Press Style Guide, which is the preeminent style guide used by most major journalists.

While car crashes currently cause thousands of deaths every single year in the United States, the AP Style Guide does not have official guidance in place to tell journalists how to describe these tragic incidents. There is no entry at all in the style guide for "accident," "crash," or "collision," but in examples of other word entries, the AP has used the word "accident" to describe traffic crashes (such as in the example for the word totaled). However, a supplemental guide called "Ask the Editor" advised against using the term "accident" because it suggests a conclusion. Regardless, journalists, including those at major publications such as the New York Times, still use the word in routine news stories.

The AP regularly updates its style guide to reflect changing culture norms (for example, changing to the word "gay" instead of "homosexual" or changing to the phrase "undocumented immigrant" instead of "illegal immigrant"). Many police stations, including both the NY and San Francisco police departments, abandoned the term "accident" this year because of a recognition that this misleading word could deter the focus on traffic safety that is necessary to reduce death rates. The AP should follow suit. By recommending the use of the word "collision," the AP style guide could thus help to "shape perceptions of traffic violence," that might make the streets of America safer over time.

If you have been injured in a traffic collision, contact Hagood & Neumann at (800) 632-9404. Offices in Houston and Galveston.

Gene HagoodWith offices in Galveston and Houston, the Law Offices of Gene S. Hagood serves clients throughout Texas. Whether it’s helping injury victims in truck accidents, construction accidents or other accidents due to negligence, Attorney Hagood works tirelessly to get people the compensation they rightfully deserve.
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