Traffic "Accidents"

Photo of Brant Stogner

Fatalities caused by drivers in traffic collisions, crashes, and other incidents have risen to a rate not seen in fifty years. Estimates from the National Safety Council reveal deadly crashes rose by nearly eight percent in 2015, claiming the lives of roughly 38,000 people. However, many groups, which include federal officials and state and local leaders, do not want these incidents referred to as "accidents" anymore. These groups feel the word trivializes the most common cause of traffic collisions: human error.

The term "accident" makes it sound like traffic incidents are unavoidable and no one is at fault. Whereas, in fact, nearly all collisions are a result of driver behavior, such as drinking, distracted driving, and other risky activity. Only six percent are caused by weather, vehicle malfunctions, and other factors.

Some states and cities are discontinuing the use of the term "accident" to help change the way drivers think about collisions. On January 1st, Nevada enacted a law to change the term to "crash" in many instances where the word is mentioned in state laws. New York City adopted a similar policy in 2014 in an effort to reduce fatalities. The city must no longer regard traffic crashes as mere "accidents." At least 28 state departments of transportation have also discontinued the term "accident" when referring to roadway collisions. Further, the traffic safety administration changed its policy in 1997, but has become more vocal about the issue.

Originally, the use of the term "accident" in this manner started in the early 1900s in the manufacturing industry. At this time, companies were looking to protect themselves from the cost of caring for employees who were injured on the job. By using the term "accident," the employers were excused of responsibility. Following this example, after traffic deaths began to increase in the 1920s, the auto and insurance industries used the term to shift the blame from the vehicles themselves. However, over time, the word has come to absolve the driver as well.

The desire for a shift in rhetoric has now come from the families of crash victims. Safety advocates will post messages on Twitter to journalists and policy makers asking them to stop using the term "accident" to describe a crash or collision. New York City changed its policy in 2014 in response to the group Families for Safe Streets. Hopefully, this push for a neutral term such as "crash" or "collision" will change the way people view these incidents.

If you or someone you know was injured or killed in an auto collision, it is important to understand your right to recover. Contact an attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend by calling 713-396-3964 or toll free at 1-800-594-4884 for a confidential consultation.

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