Some road safety campaigners want to do away with the word ‘accident’ because they believe that when you have an ‘incident’ or ‘crash’ or ‘collision’ on the road that it is not an accident. RoadPeace has been imploring the British media to use crash or collision instead of accident since 1992 because they say that the word ‘accident’ has an embedded excuse, implies no one is at fault, and downplays the seriousness of a death or serious injury.
Unfortunately they are just using a twist of language to get around what is a perfectly legitimate use of the word ‘accident’.
An accident is an unintended event that causes unintended negative consequences. It does not suggest that events were ‘beyond control’ (something that RoadPeace asserts in this media release back in 2011). Let’s apply this logic to vehicle accidents:
- If you drive your car deliberately into a group of cyclists, that is not an accident because you had intent.
- If you are driving your car, a child runs out in front of you and you swerve and hit a group of cyclists, that is an accident. There was no intent to hit either the cyclists or the child, but you did choose the cyclists over the child either consciously or subconsciously.
- If you are driving your motorbike and you hit a patch of oil in the middle of a corner and you end up in a lowside accident sliding off the road into a ditch, that is an accident. There was no intent.
- If you are speeding and you hit a pothole which bursts your tyre and sends you off the road into a tree, that is an accident. You didn’t intend to crash, but you did elevate your risk, which we’ll get to later.
Examples 2, 3 and 4 are crashes or collisions, but the media must assume an innocent-until-proven-guilty stance. The word ‘crash’ is as loaded in the opposite direction as they claim the word ‘accident’ is. In fact, for any other road users involved in the incident that are less at fault or not at fault, it is an accident as they didn’t intend for those consequences either. Describing an incident with two or more vehicles as a crash implies accountability on both sides. Should this be the case? What is the media says “X car crashed into Y car”, but then it’s discovered that Y was the car at fault? What if the media says “X and Y crashed”? Doesn’t this imply both were to blame if RoadPeace’s asserts that the word ‘crash’ implies responsibility? The law does not allow drivers at fault to be excused just because they say it was an accident.
You could look at this metaphysically or fatalistically on both sides and say, “You created your reality,” or, “It was fate.” Or you could look at it with common sense: if you want to eliminate all risk of having an ‘accident’ (or crash or collision), then do not take your vehicle out; stay at home. The further you drive, the more you increase your risk of having an accident. You also increase your risk by driving tired, dehydrated, distracted, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, using your mobile phone, or putting on makeup, driving in the rain or snow, and driving in a vehicle that’s got something wrong with it (even if you don’t know about it). The intention in driving tired is not to have an crash, it’s to get to where you want to go. The intention when you are distracted by an advertising hoarding is not to have a crash, it’s your brain’s curiosity tugging you from the road (which can be quite mundane at times).
Your acceptance of increased risk does not mean that you intend to have a crash.
RoadPeace does great work with road crash victims, but this policy is tenuous at best. All road accidents are preventable: simply don’t drive or use the roads in any way. But that isn’t practical. However, almost every accident could have been avoided (or at least reduced in severity) had the drivers had more skills or made different decisions. Skilled drivers – drivers that have a lot of experience, or who have successfully completed advanced training courses or joined organisations such as the Institute of Advanced Motorists, are more capable of anticipating and responding to dangers before they become impossible to avoid. We are all for improving driver skills: this is where efforts should be focused. We are in charge of over a tonne of very densely packed atoms in a world where distractions are more and more prevalent, so by learning how to focus on the road and to scan and anticipate risks earlier, we can reduce road deaths and injuries.
Let’s get back to intent: it’s the intent which defines an accident. If you don’t intend to have a crash, it is an accident. Yes, there is still a crash that occurs, but the primary cause is an accident. The crash is one result, not the whole event. ‘Crash’ on its own does not describe everything that occurs; it merely focuses on the ‘juicy’ bit. By attempting to remove the word accident from the lexicon of traffic incidents simply reduces the options we have to describe exactly what the situation was.
Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.