An increasing number of federal officials, safety advocates, grass-roots campaigns, and local and state leaders from around the country are pushing forward with their campaign dedicated to changing the way we refer to car crashes.
We’ve been referring to these events as “accidents” for nearly a century, but these advocates believe that continuing to refer to them as such only serves to overlook the fact that human error causes the vast majority of car crashes. The Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Mark Rosekind, spoke at the Harvard School of Public Health at a driver safety conference in May, saying that, “When you use the word ‘accident,’ it’s like, ‘God made it happen.’”
The vast majority of crashes in the United States are caused by driver error or negligence like driving under the influence, driving while distracted, etc., while only about six percent of crashes are caused by outside factors like mechanical failure, hazardous road conditions, or weather-related issues. According to data collected by the NHTSA, there were over 6 million crashes in 2014, resulting in over 2.3 million injuries and over 32,000 deaths.
Cities like New York City and San Francisco have adopted policies that change the way officials refer to traffic crashes, ditching the term “accident” from their lexicon. NYC’s policy, known as the Vision Zero Action Plan, was enacted in 2014 under Mayor Bill de Blasio. Following photographs of New Yorkers crossing city streets, de Blasio wrote a letter reaffirming his commitment to keeping the streets safer. In it, he said:
“Community groups, advocates and—most meaningfully—families who have lost loved ones, have proven that we can change hearts, minds and behaviors. Drunk driving and failure to use seatbelts, once commonplace, are now socially unacceptable. Today, we must bring the same concerted effort against dangerous and careless driving on our streets.”
On January 1 of this year, Nevada’s legislature almost unanimously passed a law that would change “accident” to “crash” in a variety of state laws where the chance would apply. Along with the state of Nevada, New York City, and San Francisco, 28 state transportation departments have begun the transition to using “crashes” rather than “accidents” when referring to those types of events.
Advocates hope that by changing the way we refer to vehicle crashes, our roads will become safer as people have a better understanding of the dangers and reasons that crashes happen. “In our society, can be everything,” said Rosekind.