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Why all the fuss about saying “car crash” instead of “car accident”?

At first this question might seem trivial. As a San Francisco accident attorney, I know it really isn’t. Whether it’s a car, bicycle, bus, trolley, or train that crashes — think about how a single word can make a huge difference in meaning. By definition, an accident is something unintentional, and presumably, unavoidable. We tend to think of an accident as something that just happens.

Accident sounds like a kinder, gentler word, but it may not be legally accurate

It’s no accident that people today, especially drivers, are much more comfortable with saying accident instead of crash or collision, or even incident or mishap. For reasons outside of this discussion, words that associate responsibility for actions are unpopular in our current culture. We prefer to presume innocence, and tend to be very reluctant to assign blame, especially when possible injury or fatality might be involved. But there are good reasons to change this way of thinking, and I’d like to explain why I think this is important for everyone in our San Francisco community to understand.

A crashed car doesn’t “just happen”

Let’s be honest and realistic. Somebody crashed a car. To always use the term accident is to assume nothing could have been done to avoid it. If that’s true, then there isn’t really anything that can be done to prevent these accidents, right? But all too often, that’s just not always the case, and it’s rare that a driver could have done nothing to avoid a crash. That’s where the difference between accident and crash comes in.

We need to change the way we think about driver responsibility in the Bay Area

Acknowledging driver responsibility also acknowledges that there are things drivers can — and should — do to reduce the incidence of driving-related injuries, disabilities and fatalities in the Bay Area. Think about drivers disregarding California’s traffic laws, driving intoxicated, driving with a suspended or revoked driver’s license or driving distracted (especially texting behind the wheel).  In all of these examples, the use of the term “accident” is inappropriate, and the term “crash” should be used instead — especially if a criminal act is involved.

What about “ownerless” car crashes?

It seems drivers depending on “ownerless” car sharing services such as ZipCar, Getaround, Carma and others have somewhat less of a sense of car ownership and driving responsibility.  I recently discovered the Carma website indicates it doesn’t require a perfect driving record, but one that must not exceed one “accident” (their word, my quotes) in the past 18 months, and no more than two “incidents” (this time, their quotes) in the past three years.  Incidents are described as moving violations, accidents or other minor violations. Notice there’s no mention of a crash or collision — what do you think this indicates?

Why we will be seeing crash used more than accident from now on

I’m not alone in thinking it’s time for a word change.  As of April of this year, the Associated Press updated its official style guide to replace the word “accident” with “crash” when reporting on traffic incidents. In addition to reporters, police officers are also being asked to say “crash” rather than “accident.” The New York Times recently made the point as well, in an article entitled, “It’s No Accident: Advocates Want to Speak of Car ‘Crashes’ Instead of ‘Accidents’.”

Calling it a crash could actually be a step in the right direction

While it may seem a stretch to think that changing terminology is a simple solution to avoiding driving-related damage, injury or even death, remember that it’s not the answer, but it can be a step in the direction of prevention. Mayor Ed Lee probably framed it best at a recent news conference addressing safer streets in San Francisco, when he stated, “These aren’t accidents. They are tragedies that can be prevented.”

Talk to a injury attorney if you don’t know if it’s a crash or an accident

Speak to an expert car accident attorney in San Francisco for free. Call 415-541-0300 now to request a consultation, or click here to email us your request. Please don’t hesitate to call if we can answer any questions. It’s important to act quickly to protect your rights after an accident, or collision, has taken place.

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