This week New York Times reported that the persistence of collisions may have a correlation with societal apathy. “Language can be everything” they say, and could our semantics be at the root of an increase in traffic fatalities? Advocates for traffic safety are calling for media and policy makers to drop the word “accident” for “crash.”
As more cities adopt Vision Zero strategies, those involved with transportation safety have been calling for a rethink of the language we use around car crashes. Up until recently, reporters and the public have used the term “accident” to refer to a collision between two autos, a vehicle and a pedestrian, motorcycle or bicycle. Critics say that the term “accident” has given the inaccurate impression that there is no fault or liability associated to the event.
An accident automatically assumes no fault, that neither of the parties acted in a way that was harmful, negligent or risky. An accident, by definition, assumes no fault.
We accidentally drop dinner plates or make a pocket phone call. We might accidentally fall down the stairs or drill too far into a wall. Accidents happen when something cannot be foreseen. When we call an incident an accident, it leaves no room for blame or culpability. If you could have set your phone on lock to prevent calling your partner during a business meeting, preventing crashes is possible too.
Transportation advocates point to instances where a pedestrian has been hit by a car to call on the public for change. Advocates for change want the media to call these collisions as “crashes” instead of “accidents.” They say that it is offensive to the families of victims when we remove the culpability from the incident. When we forget to charge the person responsible for their negligence, we may not have a way to constructively move forward as a community towards more responsible transportation.
Advocates of the Vision Zero movement suggest we use the term “crash” to refer to collisions
If we stop using the word accident, what other questions will we open up about the collisions?
Austin experienced it’s Vision Zero with 102 deaths on Austin roads. According to Police Data, impairment (drugs or alcohol) was a factor in 60 percent of the fatal incidents in cases involving drivers and pedestrians. Officials, such as police chief Art Acevedo are calling on citizens to make safe choices when out on the road. Distracted driving initiatives took hold early in Austin. Among the area, it was an early adopter of a Hands-Free Ordinance in which traffic injuries and collisions are prevented by a ban of personal device use behind the wheel. Drivers may still talk on the phone if using a “Hands Free Device.” With the task force assigned to lower traffic fatalities, are city officials and advocates doing enough?
Despite a no-refusal ordinance and increased no-refusal patrols, traffic deaths rose in 2016. According to reports, all of the traffic related deaths could have been prevented by following proper traffic safety standards. Police say it is difficult to monitor use of devices in a vehicle – without putting the officers at risk of car crash or injury as well.
Education is a central tenet around Austin’s traffic safety initiatives. The hope, by city officials, is that all have a better understanding of the consequences of their actions. As part of the Arrive Alive safety campaign, Austin Police Department partnered with 22 other agencies to make sure people traveled safely and without incident during the holiday season. Changing language could move the city to rethink our physical landscape too. Bike Austin is calling on residents near Mesa Drive to support the addition of bike lanes on the busy street. After a resident’s son died in a collision caused by a drunk driver, they began to look for ways to better the physical landscape for cyclists and pedestrians. Advocates in Austin look to changes that could be made on E. Riverside, and the city’s 5 most dangerous intersections.
In a battle over semantics, is there really a winner? We can all be winners if the number of injuries caused by violent crashes decreases. The fewer families that are forced to think about the way their families’ death is presented by the news is a win for all.
Follow the debate on Facebook and Twitter at @theaustinlawyer using the hashtags #DroptheAWord and #VisionZeroATX.
If you or a loved one was involved in a crash, contact Jason and Justin McMinn at 512-474-0222, or use the live chat or free evaluation form on this website.