Traffic "Accident"

The word “accident” tends to roll off the tongue when discussing a car crash.

The problem with using that word is that it’s not an accident. It’s a crash.

Just like in a plane, when a vehicle crashes, there is some identifiable human or mechanical error and not fate. That’s why they’re not called “plane accidents.”

Likewise, car accidents are almost never accidents. One or more motorists usually are responsible for a collision occurring. 

The crash might happen because a driver is sleepy, reckless, inattentive or under the influence of alcohol or illegal or prescription drugs. Even if you back into the garage door, it’s a crash.

Even media sometimes call them accidents. They personify vehicles, with headlines such as “Car jumps curb, killing two” or “Car plows into truck.” There’s rarely a mention of a driver. Headline writers have been making cars inadvertently autonomous long before the first Google car drove itself from Palo Alto, Calif. to Las Vegas. 

As a safety advocate, AAA and many auto experts stress the importance of describing crashes accurately. 

“As a leader in traffic safety, it’s time for drivers to take responsibility for their actions,” said Brad Oltmans, vice president of insurance for AAA Arizona. “No matter the circumstance, it is the driver’s choice to get behind the wheel. Anything that occurs after that — good driving or bad — is not an accident.”

While driving is probably the most dangerous thing that most people do in a lifetime, the fact is that many traffic fatalities are preventable. 

It can be helpful to attend a defensive driving class to learn rules of the road and sharpen skills. 

AAA offers two such classes — Roadwise Driver for those 55 years and older and Permit Prep Challenge for teens who are getting ready to take the driver license test.

After all, anyone who has driven more than a few thousand miles has experienced a near miss. Even glancing down can cause you to drift into another lane or make an unsafe turn. 

On average, 850 people are killed each year in car crashes in Arizona and 30,000 are killed nationwide, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Most drivers have experienced a crash of some sort, though many are reluctant to admit it. 

Experts attribute some of this to human nature. After all, using words such as “wreck,” “collision” and “crash” imply fault and sound much worse than “accident.”

“Just because something is inadvertent doesn’t make it an accident,” Oltmans said. 

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