Traffic crashes are not ‘accidents’

If you are a reader of these weekly articles on traffic law and traffic safety, you are aware that I never write about traffic accidents — I always refer to them as crashes or collisions. In fact, I have written full articles, the most recent one in May 2019, trying to get people and news media to drop the word “accident” and replace it with “crash” or “collision.”

Official forms used by enforcement agencies and the Department of Motor Vehicles should revise these forms and replace the “A” word with one of the “C” words. The same should be said for New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law, which uses the word “accident” throughout.

“When you use the word ‘accident,’ it’s like God made it happen,” said Mark Rosekind, past head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

According to an article in the New York Times several years ago, the state of Nevada enacted a law on Jan. 1, 2016, to change the word “accident” to “crash” in dozens of instances where the word is mentioned in state laws, like those covering police and insurance reports.

Sheriff Ron Spike from Yates County in New York state recently sent me an article about an initiative in the state of Michigan where police are using the word “accident” less to describe traffic crashes.

The article, by Mallory Pearson, cites a new study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that finds that 94% of all traffic crashes are due to driver errors. This figure is consistent with previous information I have cited in these articles.

With that information, police agencies in the state of Michigan say they’re done using the word “accident” to describe traffic crashes and they hope more drivers will take responsibility for their actions behind the wheel.

Slipping and sliding on icy or snow-covered roads can be unavoidable on some winter days, even for the most cautious driver. But recent data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that 36,000 of the nearly 40,000 traffic-related deaths in 2019 could have been avoided if drivers made different choices. Grand Blanc Township (Michigan) Police Chief Ron Wiles said those choices cause most of the crashes seen on roadways.

“It falls on me, it’s on you, and it’s on anyone who has a driver’s license. The majority of crashes happen because of human error,” he said. Moving violations of the law such as speeding, distracted driving and driving under the influence are factors in most crashes. Not wearing a seat belt exacerbates injuries and fatalities.

Police, the Michigan Department of Transportation and AAA are calling these incidents crashes — not accidents — because they could be avoided.

“The big push used to be calling them accidents, but it’s not necessarily that,” Wiles said. “It’s usually something the driver has done or has not done. Be aware of your surroundings, understand that you are driving a vehicle that has the ability to cause serious damage to someone else and we are responsible for making sure we drive that vehicle safely.”

According to the study and police, using the term crash instead of accident has the potential to save lives by reminding drivers that they are in charge behind the wheel making choices that are not accidental at all.


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