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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
Attorney • (877) 377-7848

It’s No Accident

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No one uses the term “plane accident”; the common phrase is “plane crash”. Then why do we commonly use the phrase “auto accident” rather than “car crash”?

“When you use the word ‘accident,’ it’s like, ‘God made it happen,’ ” Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said at a driver safety conference at the Harvard School of Public Health. “In our society,” he added, “language can be everything.”

The push to replace ‘accidents’ with ‘crashes’ is not a new one. Rosekind joins a growing number of safety advocates who believe using the word ‘accident’ trivializes the most common cause of traffic incidents – human error, and exonerates the person responsible. In the 1960’s the first director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, William Haddon, made anyone who used the word ‘accident’ in one of their meetings to put a dime in the jar. By 1997, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched a campaign called “Crashes Aren’t Accidents.” In a published statement the agency said:

“Motor vehicle crashes and injuries are predictable, preventable events. Continued use of the word ‘accident’ promotes the concept that these events are outside of human influence or control. In fact, they are predictable results of specific actions.” “’Crash,’ ‘collision,’ ‘incident,’ and ‘injury’ are more appropriate terms, and should be encouraged as substitutes for the word ‘accident.’”

A website called “Crash Not Accident,” even urges people to take a pledge to “not call traffic crashes ‘accidents’ because ‘crashes’ are fixable problems that typically stem from distracted driving (like texting behind the wheel), drunk driving, and speeding. All three are clearly predictable, preventable events; they are clearly not ‘accidents’.

Although most auto ‘accidents’ are someone’s fault and the person or entity should be held accountable, when engaging in a casual conversations, most people will use the ‘accident’ and ‘crash’ interchangeably; language does not matter much. Even in the Meriam-Webster dictionary these terms are not that different.

Accident: a sudden event (such as a crash) that is not planned or intended and that causes damage or injury

Crash: to hit something hard enough to cause serious damage or destruction

But, when it comes to an insurance adjuster or jury, most people don’t realize that word choice could have a huge impact on a case. According to Dr. Peter Norton, a historian and associate professor of engineering, the word ‘accident’ was introduced in the early 1900s, when companies were looking to protect themselves from the costs of caring for workers who were injured on the job. Calling the events ‘accidents’ excused employers of responsibility. When traffic deaths spiked in the 1920s, the auto-industry interests, including insurers, used the word to shift focus to reckless drivers. The word ‘crash’ (wreck or collision) is used to imply that someone was at fault.

While we may need to use the correct terms (‘crash’, ‘collision’, ‘wreck’) to hold people accountable in a court of law, the real questions are: Will dropping the “A word” address the real issues behind a traffic incident? Will it prevent us from seeking solutions to making our roads safer? Are we solving anything by having this debate? What do you think?

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.