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The Proposal

Soaring roadway fatality rates from crashes and collisions caused by careless drivers are not accidental, say an increasing number of safety advocates and federal, state, and local officials. Use of the word “accident,” they contend, trivializes fatal human error, by far the most common cause of death on the highway.


To the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “accident” sounds like an act of God, an unavoidable natural disaster, or an unfortunate but inevitable fact of life rather than a result of irresponsible, inexcusable driver misconduct.

According to NHTSA records, about six percent of fatal crashes are from vehicular malfunctions, extreme weather, and unusual road hazards. The rest involve driver misbehavior: intoxication, inattention, and recklessness. According to the National Safety Council, in 2015 the number, 38,000, of deadly highway crashes rose by nearly eight percent over the previous year.

Although driving is the most dangerous activity most people ever do, apathy may explain the persistently high annual count of casualties. The proposed semantic change means to rouse policy makers out of the no-fault perspective implicit in the word “accident.”


The State of Nevada has enacted a law that replaces “accident” with “crash” in all pertinent instances of The Nevada Revised Statutes. New York City has adopted a policy that “no longer regard[s] traffic crashes as mere ‘accidents,'” and other cities, San Francisco as an example, have followed suit. At least 28 state transportation departments have discarded the term “accident” in references to traffic mishaps.

The Associated Press has announced a new policy that for crashes involving proven negligence reporters should “avoid ‘accident,’ which can be read by some as a term exonerating the person responsible.” The New York Times style guide takes no position on the issue.


But there is another side. The Virginia Department of Transportation, asked to stop using “accident,” replied that drivers familiar and comfortable with the term might not consider minor mishaps as crashes and so might be confused by the requested change if accepted.

A Merriam-Webster entry defines “accident” as “an unexpected happening not due to any fault or misconduct on the part of the person injured.” Over time, the term has acquired an exonerative aspect for negligent drivers as if an “accident” were like a stroke of lightning beyond prevention or control, so critics now see it as having “normalized mass death” whereas “crash,” they say, restores appreciation of the catastrophic consequences for victims.


Families of victims use social media to lobby for the proposed change. Advocates often post to journalists and policy makers Twitter messages urging them to stop using “accident” in place of “crash.” One such group, Families for Safe Streets, argues that drivers responsible for deadly wrecks should not have an implied presumption of non-culpability just because they survive to tell their sides of the stories.

Car crashes are no joke. If you’ve been injured, make sure you have an experienced and knowledgable personal injury attorney on your side so you get the compensation you deserve. Call Moss Berg Injury Lawyers today to book your free consultation.