It’s no accident — it’s a crash

Interesting article yesterday in the New York Times, titled ‘It’s no accident: Advocates want to speak of car ‘crashes’ instead’. It’s about safety advocates changing language use from a car accident to a car crash. The AP recently revised their style guide. Dr Rosekind of the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is on board, saying,

“When you use the word accident, it’s like, ‘God made it happen.’”

The thinking is that ‘accident’ may make us shrug our shoulders and think, oh well, what can you do, accidents happen. ‘Accident’ may trivialize that most common cause of traffic incidents: human error. Which in turn is influenced by bad design, pressures, expectancies, complexities, on and on. The ‘perfect storm’ or ‘normal accident’.


Of course, in todays litigious society, it may seem like we are really just looking for someone to blame, someone to sue. I found it fascinating that Dr Peter Norton, a historian and associate professor of engineering, says that companies started using the word ‘accident’ in the early 1900s to protect themselves from the costs of caring for workers injured on the job:

“Relentless safety campaigns started calling these events ‘accidents,’ which excused the employer of responsibility.”

And that in the 1920s auto-industry interests borrowed the word to shift focus away from the cars themselves. Dr Norton again:

“Automakers were very interested in blaming reckless drivers.”

This makes me want to join the It’s a crash. Not an accident movement. As they say:

Before the labor movement, factory owners would say “it was an accident” when American workers were injured in unsafe conditions.

Before the movement to combat drunk driving, intoxicated drivers would say “it was an accident” when they crashed their cars.

Planes don’t have accidents. They crash. Cranes don’t have accidents. They collapse. And as a society, we expect answers and solutions.

Traffic crashes are fixable problems, caused by dangerous streets and unsafe drivers. They are not accidents. Let’s stop using the word “accident” today.

What do you think? Should we stop reflexively calling plane crashes ‘accidents’?

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