Its time to call MVAs what they are: a car crash, not an accident. As the New York Times recently reported, a growing number of safety advocates are campaigning to change a 100-year-old mentality that they say trivializes the single most common cause of traffic incidents: human error. Roadway fatalities are soaring at a rate not seen in 50 years, resulting from crashes, collisions and other incidents caused by drivers. Almost all crashes stem from driver behavior like drinking, distracted driving and other risky activity such as texting. There is nothing accidental about negligent and reckless driving that caused 38,000 people to die in car crashes in 2015.
The way we think about things is in large part framed by the language we use. Calling preventable roadway deaths “accidents” does nothing to improve safety, in fact it fosters dangerous behavior by absolving it of responsibility.
Merriam-Webster definition that describes accident as “an unexpected happening” that “is not due to any fault or misconduct on the part of the person injured.” “When you use the word ‘accident,’ it’s like, ‘God made it happen,’ ” Mark Rosekind, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said at a driver safety conference this month at the Harvard School of Public Health. Only 6 percent of crashes are accidents caused by vehicle malfunctions, weather and other factors.
In April, The A.P. announced a new policy. When negligence is claimed or proven in a crash, the new entry reads, reporters should “avoid accident, which can be read by some as a term exonerating the person responsible.”
The word accident was introduced into the lexicon of manufacturing in the early 1900s, when companies were looking to protect themselves from the costs of caring for workers who were injured on the job, according to Peter Norton, a historian and associate professor at the University of Virginia’s department of engineering.
When traffic deaths spiked in the 1920s, auto manufacturers and insurers borrowed the word to shift the focus away from the cars themselves. “Automakers were very interested in blaming reckless drivers,” Dr. Norton said. But over time, he said, the word has come to exonerate the driver, too, with “accident” seeming like a lightning strike, beyond anyone’s control. The word accident, he added, is seen by its critics as having “normalized mass death in this country,” whereas “the word ‘crash’ is a resurrection of the enormity of this catastrophe.”
Calling it an auto crash, is honest and fosters personal responsibility and safety.
McCormick Law Office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin represents people injured in motor vehicle crashes recovering money for medical bills, wage loss, pain, suffering and disability.