Recently, the Associated Press updated its Style Guide – which is followed by news outlets across the country – announced a new policy whereby it will refer to automobile collisions in which negligence has been alleged or established as “crashes” instead of “accidents.”
The updated 2016 AP Style Guide does indicate that both “accident” and “crash” are technically acceptable terms for most wrecks. However, in cases where negligence is claimed or proven, the term “accident” should be sidestepped because it could be read as a way of indicating the accused isn’t really responsible. In those scenarios, the new guide notes, the terms “crash” or “collision” or other similar term is preferable.
Does it really matter what we call it, though? According to a number of sources quoted in a recent analysis by The New York Times: Yes.
Mark Rosekind, director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said the term “accident” makes it sound as if, “God made it happen.” The truth of the matter is, almost all crashes occur because at least one driver was engaged in some form of risky behavior such as:
Only about 6 percent of all auto accidents are caused by some type of manufacturer malfunction, poor weather conditions or other factors. Even in the case of inclement weather, motorists have a responsibility to slow down and drive in a manner safest for the conditions. Too many don’t.
The idea of abandoning the term “accident,” safety advocates say, is a way to avoid trivializing the kind of human error that causes more than 30,000 deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries each year.
Changing the semantics of the situations strips down this idea that no one is at-fault.
Eearlier this year, Nevada state legislators unanimously passed a law that requires the term “crash” instead of “accident” to be used in instances where the term is noted in state laws. Statutes already on the books will even be updated.
In 2014, New York City and later San Francisco updated policy to indicate traffic crashes would no longer be regarded simply as “accidents.”
In all, some 28 state departments of transportation are rolling back their use of the term “accident.” Some of those go back as far as the late 90s, but many are only just now becoming more empowered and vocal about it.
And while some state officials say motorists are generally more comfortable with “the ‘A’ word,” the fact is it is technically not correct for the majority of crashes. Consider that Merriam-Webster defines an accident as an unexpected happening that is “not due to any fault or misconduct on the part of the person injured.”
The whole reason we use the word, according to the Times‘ research, has to do with a movement at the start of the 20th Century to warn workers in manufacturing of certain risks (and ultimately lower the amount companies had to pay for work-related injuries). Thus was born the creation of a foolish cartoon character, Otoo Nobetter, who often suffered serious on-the-job injuries. These occurrences were referred to as “accidents,” and the word was specifically intended to distance the employer from any modicum of responsibility. Subsequently, auto industry leaders began using the word too, as they had an interest in blaming reckless drivers – rather than manufacturers – for crashes. But as some critics say, the use of the word “accident” has in effect, “normalized mass death” on our roads, and make it seem as if these are inevitable incidents. They are not.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
It’s No Accident: Advocates Want to Speak of Car “Crashes” Instead, May 22, 2016, By Matt Richtel, The New York Times
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Greenville Car Accident Kills ECU Student, May 19, 2016, Rock Hill Car Accident Lawyer Blog