DETROIT – Don’t be so quick to call a crash an accident.
That’s the message the Michigan Department of Transportation and law enforcement members want to relay to drivers as we head into the icy months. When a traffic crash is described as an “accident,” it implies that no one bears responsibility for the outcome, MDOT said. It also leads to the belief there was nothing that could have been done to prevent it.
According to MDOT and Michigan State Police, most crashes result from distracted, drugged, or drunken drivers, or unsafe or illegal actions, such as driving too fast for wet or icy conditions and failing to stop for stop signs or signals. A small percentage are the result of equipment failures, animals, or medical emergencies.
Lt. Derrick Carroll, public information officer for Michigan State Police Seventh District, said in his experience most crashes stem from driver behavior.
“An accident cannot be reasonably foreseen. A crash is the result of choices made and a disregard for safety,” Carroll said. “That’s why we in law enforcement call it a traffic crash and never an accident.”
The word “accident” was used in the early 1900s by companies seeking to avoid liability for workers injured on the job, according to MDOT. The transportation department also says that in the 1920s, automakers and insurers began using it as well in an effort to shift blame. It has since come to be used as an equivalent term for “crash” to absolve drivers as well, according to MDOT.
While an Associated Press Stylebook 2016 revision says “accident” and “crash” are generally acceptable descriptions for vehicle crashes, it does recommend that journalists use “crash, collision, or other terms” and avoid using “accident” in auto crash reporting, particularly in cases when negligence is claimed or proven.