Drop The "A" Word - Not all crashes are accidents

Friday, July 31, 2015

We don’t say “plane accident.” We shouldn’t say “car accident” either.

By Joseph Stromberg at

To most people, the terms "car crash" and "car accident" are largely interchangeable. But a growing number of traffic safety advocates have been pointing out that there's actually a big difference — and they want journalists, public officials, and everyday people to say crash, not accident.
The two groups behind the recent campaign — Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets — argue that the term "accident" makes it seem like crashes are inevitable, rather than preventable. In a subtle way, it normalizes the crash and discourages us from looking more deeply into their causes — whether alcohol, reckless driving, or bad street design.
Using the word "accident" to describe car crashes might seem natural. But early coverage of crashes in the 1910s and 1920s depicted the vehicles as dangerous killing machines — and their violent collisions were seldom called accidents.To get people to follow these laws, they tried to shape news coverage of crashes. 
The National Automobile Chamber of Commerce, an industry group, established a free wire service for newspapers: Reporters could send in the basic details of a traffic collision, and would get in return a complete article to print the next day. These articles, printed widely, shifted the blame for crashes to pedestrians — and almost always used the word "accident."

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Word On Words: Accidents

“The public usually associates the word with an event, not with the damage that results.”

Erase it from your vocabulary.  Please.

As someone trained in public health, I loathe this word.  It implies an event is an act of God, unpredictable and unpreventable, something that happens by chance.  If you’re interested in a very thorough history of the word, this article provides details back to the 14th Century of its use in both a legal and religious context.  If you’re perhaps a little less interested, let it suffice to say it was a useful word before we had more rigorous methods of inquiry and all we could do was chalk things up to events falling from the heavens.  But it also shows a pattern of this word having been repeatedly rejected as a technical term–both scientifically and legally, due to its lack of meaning useful to those fields.  Instead, its persistence stems from the term’s usefulness in marketing and politics.

The problem with this word–which, not coincidentally is why it is useful politically–is that it stands in the way of progress.  As long as we term something an “accident” we don’t (and don’t have to) look any further.  “Things happen,” we say, “accidents happen.”  What can you do about things that just “happen”?

Read the full blog post here.

By Molly Tran
Twitter - @WalkingNPR

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Crash Not Accident Vigil in NYC

Last night in New York City, over 1,000 people came together to support the Crash Not Accident campaign.  Families for Safe Streets organized the event which took place in Union Square.

July 14, New York City - Photo by @pfrishauf

Families for Safe Streets is asking supporters to sign a pledge that says, “I will not call traffic crashes ‘accidents.’ I will educate others about why ‘crash’ is a better word.”

View a short video of the event here

Families for Safe Streets is comprised of victims of traffic violence and families whose loved ones have been killed or severely injured by aggressive or reckless driving and dangerous conditions on New York City’s streets. We represent the full breadth of New York’s diversity and demand an end to traffic violence.

Twitter: @NYC_SafeStreets

Monday, July 6, 2015

There Are No Accidents

I learned as a rookie newspaper reporter that there are no accidents in life — none involving cars, trucks or motorcycles, anyway.

“Accident” implies an event that’s beyond our control. Because reporters cannot know what’s in a driver’s mind, we can’t say something is an accident.

Newspapers that shunned the A word reported on automotive mishaps, incidents and collisions. Blow-dried TV announcers and traffic reporters shouting over helicopter noise favored the more vivid noun crash.

Copy editors weren’t the only sticklers for the right word to describe highway misfortune. Years ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tried to expunge the concept of traffic accidents.

By eliminating the word in speeches, news releases and publications, it hoped in 1997 to re-educate people that car wrecks weren’t acts of God but predictable and preventable events.

The agency also launched a “Crashes are not accidents” campaign. From time to time, other groups have taken up the cause, but people hang onto the idea of tragic highway accidents. Now, though, while we can’t stop the lethal combination of speed and distance, we at least buckle our seat belts.

Read the full story from the Bristol, Virginia Herald Courier here