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

Thursday, October 22, 2015

What Traffic Reporters say about the word "Accident"

Posted by Jeff Larason

Prior to working in roadway safety I spent many years as a Traffic Reporter.    I worked with DOT’s around the country setting up 511 systems and overseeing Traffic Operations Centers.  In those jobs I used the word “accident” literally tens of thousands of times.   It never crossed my mind that the word was wrong. 

I am a member the Traffic Reporters Group on Facebook.  There have been several discussions within the group regarding whether it’s correct for traffic reporters to call crashes “accidents”.  There are smart, thoughtful, professional reporters with opinions on both sides of the subject.  Below is a snapshot of some of discussion.

Note - I’ve removed identifying photos and names from the commenters and edited for brevity.  I’ve tried to keep the spirit of their comments, and hope I have represented their statements accurately. 

MW - Prove it WASN'T an accident.  Accident is perfectly fine. It's part of the lexicon.

KB - Even though someone is drunk or drugged they still do not intend to get in a crash. Therefore it’s still an accident. Neglectful yes, but not intentional. Every incident is unintentional.  It is simply part of a traffic reporters vernacular and has been forever. Everyone listening knows what it means.

MH - If you want to call it a crash or collision. Go for it. I won't tell you you're wrong.  But don't tell me I'm wrong to call it an accident.  It is what the average person in the world calls it and that's my audience. It is the most conversational term for what frequently happens on the road.  It is, also, by definition, the correct term about 99.99% of the time.  In the common vernacular of a listening audience it's correct 100%.  Your issue with it is that you ascribe all this deeper meaning to it that I don't think has any basis in provable fact. Calling an accident an accident when it ultimately involves a DUI or texter or whatever other poor behavior does not, tell people it's okay to engage in said behavior. It does not excuse those that do and I can't possibly see that anyone would think it does because they hear me say whilst driving about in the Traffic Tracker.

‪Further, the main point of my argument falls into the "common parlance" arena. I'm speaking to audience who cares about getting from point A to point B and the word they would use is accident.

TK - We always called them accidents or incidents. We had no idea who or what caused them.

EG - Anyone with half a brain knows that "accident" means (in this context) "at least one car collided with something".  

SS - The listeners don't care what we call it. They care if we have the backup wrong.

EG - For the purposes of a traffic report, I'd call them accidents, since there usually isn't the time (or need) for details. If I were writing a piece for a newspaper, website, or blog, on the other hand, I might even avoid using terms like accident or crash altogether.

SS - Now if you can prove in the moment that a crash was intentional, you have a point in not calling it an accident. But in the moment of reporting we often don't have that luxury.  And in the end the listener only cares if it's still there in their way and will they be late. They really don't care what we call it, and the word accident is a recognizable term to them..

ND - I got an angry phone call at one point.  The woman on the other end was upset because she said the term "crash" was insensitive.

PS - It's an accident until proven otherwise.


  1. Replies
    1. To be fair, there was agreement from some reporters. These were just the most troublesome comments in the threads.

  2. Thanks Jeff for adding the discussion here. At least we can know what people are thinking about the accidents. I'll look for this Traffic reporter group in facebook. I got this snap interesting and I want to see more interesting conversations in this group. Accidents and crashes are really the most horrible experiences in life. I never wish to face those in my life. German Auto Repair Portland, OR.

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