Archive for December, 2013

Dec 2013

Should the News Media Use the Term “Accident” To Describe Car Crashes?

Traffic collisions happen frequently and many crash incidents are reported by the local news media and even occasionally by the national news media if the incident is an especially devastating one. When these traffic collisions are reported, one of the most common terms that is used to describe them is “accident.” 

Recently, however, the DC Streets Blog published an article urging the Associated Press to remove the term “accidents” from the Associated Press Style Guide. The AP-style guide is used by journalists and sets the standard for accepted and conventional word usage. The DC Streets Blog believes that the term “accidents” should be dropped and that instead the style guide should list “collision” as the preferred term for journalists to use.

Why Not Use the Word “Accident?”

The argument for changing the word “accident” to “collision” is a simple one: accident suggests that no one was to blame and that “traffic injuries and deaths are just random, unpreventable occurrences.” However, experienced car crash lawyers in Riverside know that the reality is that accidents often aren’t just random events that are beyond people’s control.  Instead, car wrecks happen because drivers make a choice to be careless, to disobey safety rules or to engage in driving behaviors that take their lives (and the lives of others on the road) into their hands.

The use of the term accidents is described as being part of a “cultural permissiveness towards dangerous driving,” that is believed to contribute to the loss of life that comes from traffic crashes.

While this may seem like a semantic argument, several police stations across the country have already recognized that words have power and have made changes. The New York Police Department (NYPD) adopted a policy early in 2013 to stop using the term “accident” as a descriptor for car crashes.  The police department in the city of San Francisco also made the change and stopped using “accident” several months after the NYPD made their shift.

Most major news media outlets, however, continue to use the word accident as the default term when car wrecks happen. This word tends to be used even in situations where it is clear that one driver made an incredibly dangerous decision that led to the loss of life. For example, major news media outlets including the New York Times have used the term “accident” even in vehicular homicide cases where someone has been killed and the driver responsible for the death is being prosecuted and faces lengthy jail time for his reckless and dangerous disregard for human life.

News media outlets likely use the term “accident” because the Associated Press Style Guide, the preeminent guide for journalists, does not have an official entry on the issue. The official style guide also does not have an entry for “crash,” or “collision.” While the supplemental “Ask the Editor Guide” does advise against using the term “accident,” because doing so could suggest a conclusion to the reader, there are inconsistencies. The AP Style Guide entry for “Total, Totaling, Totaled,” for example, gives an example of the use of the word totaled that ends with the phrase “killed in holiday traffic accidents.”

The AP could remove examples like this from its style guide and could create a simple entry in the guide to make clear that traffic crashes should be called “collisions,” so that causality is implied. This change in the way that crashes are reported could help to shape perceptions of traffic violence and could perhaps make the roads safer over time.

If you’ve been injured, contact the Law Offices of Daniel C. Carlton at (949) 757-0707 today for your free case evaluation.