When one car hits another, or a bus plows into a pedestrian, or a taxi runs up on the sidewalk, we call such incidents “accidents.” This blog often refers to events like these as truck or auto accidents. But in most cases, killing a bicyclist or smashing into a stop sign are not accidents, at least according to two New York City nonprofits, Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets.
These two groups are pushing the city and local media to stop using the word accident when describing a traffic incident. While these groups acknowledge that auto crashes may be unintentional, they believe that wrecks and injuries are not random, unpredictable or unavoidable.
Moreover, using the word accident, they believe, sends the message that no one is responsible for traffic mayhem. An accident can often be no more than bad luck – no one is at fault. One writer observes that calling something an accident makes a terrible event seem less awful.
The website of Transportation Alternatives captures the essence of its campaign:
Before the labor movement, factory owners would say “it was an accident” when American workers were injured in unsafe conditions.
Before the movement to combat drunk driving, intoxicated drivers would say “it was an accident” when they crashed their cars.
Planes don’t have accidents. They crash. Cranes don’t have accidents. They collapse. And as a society, we expect answers and solutions.
Traffic crashes are fixable problems, caused by dangerous streets and unsafe drivers. They are not accidents. Let’s stop using the word “accident” today.
The website also provides an opportunity for New Yorkers to pledge to stop calling traffic crashes accidents and to educate others about the need to change the words used to describe such incidents. Wreck? Collision? Smash? Pile-up? All would be much better than “accident,” according to the Transportation Alternatives website.
Families for Safe Streets is a co-sponsor of this initiative. According to its website, Families for Safe Streets is
[c]omprised 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 banded together in early 2014 to turn our grief into action and were instrumental in lowering the citywide speed limit in New York City, among other critical safety initiatives.
Other initiatives undertaken by the group include the Right of Way Law, the 25 mph citywide speed limit, redesigning Queens Boulevard to eliminate pedestrian deaths, and the Drive Like Your Family Lives Here campaign.
Can simply changing a word improve traffic safety? These two groups think so. Being more precise, they say, will make it harder for people to evade responsibility, if only in their own minds. If they feel more responsible, they will behave more responsibly. In short, advocates of the change from accident to crash are hoping to effect a cultural shift.