Published on:

Should The Term “Car Accident” Be Used to Describe Crashes?

Many major publications including the Boston Globe routinely use the term “car accident” to describe a collision that occurs between two vehicles or that occurs between a vehicle and a pedestrian. The use of this term is readily accepted and most people say “accident” to describe a crash without even really thinking about it. motorway-1198014-m.jpg

Recently, however, the DC Streets Blog published an article arguing that the use of the word “accident” was not appropriate to describe a traffic collision. The author’s argument was that the term “accident” can imply ‘that no one was at fault– that traffic injuries and deaths are just random, unpreventable occurrences.” Our Boston injury lawyers know that this is not an accurate representation of what collisions are, since they don’t just happen but are instead caused by defective vehicles, dangerous road designs or bad decisions made by one or more motorists on the road. The use of the term “accident” to describe traffic collisions may not drive this point home, as reports of collisions that use the word “accident” could be seen as letting the responsible driver off the hook for his actions.

Accident as a Description for Car Wrecks

Because the term “accident” is used so frequently, it can shape the way that people think about car wrecks and can have a detrimental impact on road safety. The DC Streets Blog argues that using the word accident is “part of a cultural permissiveness toward dangerous driving, which contributes to the loss of life.”

If people view collisions as something that just happen rather than as active acts of traffic violence with serious consequences, it can make it less likely that there will be a strong incentive to conduct a thorough investigation to uncover the causes of traffic collisions and to determine potential solutions. The term “accident” also suggests a conclusion– that no one is liable– and most journalists typically try to use terms that suggest conclusions.

In light of concerns that the term “accident” may not be an accurate reflection of what really happens when cars collide, the New York City Police Commissioner has issued a statement that “accident” can give the “inaccurate impression or connotation that there is no fault or liability associated with a specific event,” and it has now become the official policy of the NYPD not to use the word to describe collisions. The San Francisco police department has also barred the use of the word in traffic collision reports and law enforcement vernacular. Other cities may follow suit.

The press, however, continues to use the term. The DC Streets Blog argued that the Associated Press Style Guide should include an entry in the official guide discussing the use of the term accident or collision and establishing that “collision” is the right word to use.

The style guide doesn’t currently address this issue specifically, although a supplementary AP publication does mention that “accident” should not be used. The AP Style Guide is the official guide used by most journalists in determining what language and terms are appropriate for publications. Many journalists may not see the supplementary publication and the DC Streets Blog believes that the AP should include details about the term “accident” in the official guide.

Unless and until common usage changes, the word accident will continue to describe traffic collisions among the press and among victims in personal injury claims. However, it is important to realize that “accident” does not imply that the crash was unavoidable or that no one was to blame.

If you or someone you love has been injured, contact Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment to discuss your rights. Call 888-367-2900.

More Blog Entries:


No “Selfies” in the Driver’s Seat!, Boston Car Accident Lawyer Blog, November 29, 2013