Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Road users have Collisions, Children have 'accidents'

For the last couple years I have made a point of correcting people when the word “Accident” is used to describe an event where people, vehicles, etc come into contact. A couple of weeks ago, my correction of someone’s use of the word led to an email debate over Accident vs. Collision/Crash/Wreck.

That is what prompted this post.


According the Oxford Dictionary an accident is described as:
Noun – 1.) an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally. 2.) an incident that happens by chance or without apparent cause. 3.) chance

I will concede that according to some of that definition, an accident could be used to describe a crash. But, it truly is not unexpected, a crash never happens without apparent cause and chance? Please. I believe this definition was never meant to be used to describe a collision.

Using the same Oxford Dictionary a Collision is:
Noun – an instance of colliding
And a Crash is:
Verb – (of a vehicle) collide violently with an obstacle or another vehicle.
Finally Wreck is:
Noun – 3.) a building, vehicle, etc. that has been destroyed or badly damaged. 4) a road or rail crash.

Using any of those definitions, Collision, Crash, Wreck is far more accurate than accident to describe the coming together of vehicle, bicycles, cars and people.

Whoose to blame:

Collectively we all need to get our houses in order to help prevent collisions and something as simple as changing our vernacular can be a benefit.

I believe that when we use the word accident we give people an ‘out’ of the responsibility that needs to be felt. Accident allows people the thought that what happened couldn’t be avoided; it was something that was unforeseen and unavoidable. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The common denominator is human behaviour, which leads to human error. The worlds safest roadways can become filled with the bodies of dead and injured by the factor of disregarding simple safety and common sense rules while the worst roads travelled with awareness, adherence to laws, operating within safety guides for the conditions and alert behaviours can be injury and death free.

Now, I will also concede that law enforcement, media, insurance companies and government play a role in this mess. The reports that the police in Ontario file with the MTO are called Accident Reports. Most insurance company websites will refer to the word accident, media will report accidents as they happen.

The term accident became part of the vernacular of describing collisions and crashes somewhere along the way and has cemented itself there. We shouldn’t be using the word just because that is what people are used to hearing. We should be using the words that describe what it is. I think we can all be leaders by changing the words and helping to put blame where it belongs.

Accident makes the liability, blame and cause of collisions minimal at best and creates an escape clause for those responsible for the event. I saw an insurance company website recently that promoted a "responsibility project" that used the term accident all through their material. If any industry has a reason to put blame and fault where it belongs, it’s the insurance industry.

Collisions are predictable and preventable. Drive distracted, impaired, fatigued, aggressive, unaware or unskilled and you will cause injuries and or death.

Nothing on the roads just all of a sudden happens. There is a period where the event develops or unfolds and someone has done something wrong, illegal or unsafe.

Sure, you never get home and say to your spouse, “Wow, I just saw a huge collision.” You more than likely say accident. The person who was hit in a collision might say they were the victims of an accident, but the totality of the event is a collision that could have been prevented.

And yes, sometimes even the people who are hit can bear some responsibility. If you are driving aware and alert, you might see that a car is going to go through a red light, but all too often, we see that we have the perceived right of way and assume the way is clear for us.

So do us all a favour, stop using the word accident. Collision is more accurate, crash is more dynamic and wreck, well that’s just plain cool.

I have tried and tried and tried, but no matter what, I can’t think of one scenario that can allow for the word accident to be used. Can you? Let me know, have your say. Tell me I’m wrong or tell me I’m right. Leave a comment to share with everyone.

If you want to use the word accident, keep it to describing what children have when they are toilet training.


  1. Could not have said it better myself.
    How to avoid a collision? Give space, and always use lights, light travels faster than your unlit vehicle, so it will always be more visible, and less likely to be hit.

  2. When the dictionary says Noun – 1.) an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally. 2.) an incident that happens by chance or without apparent cause. 3.) chance
    It DOES NOT imply all 3 meanings at once. It is a known fact that sometimes words can mean different things, so the dictionary separates these different meanings by 1) 2) and so on
    For example: drop - noun 1) a small quantity of liquid that falls or is produced in a more or less spherical mass; a liquid globule 2) a decline in amount, degree, quality, value, etc.: a drop in prices. 3) a central depository where items are left or transmitted: a mail drop. 4) a steep slope: a short drop to the lake.
    Then it goes on with -verb..... but you get the point.
    Accident refers to unexpected and unintentional. If a driver got distracted and ran a red, he didn't intend to do it, nor was he expecting it, therefore, IT'S AN ACCIDENT.
    I agree that it doesn't fit the other two descriptions, but same way that "Drop in prices" has absolutely nothing to do with rain, water or any other liquid

  3. Hey Vlad;
    Thanks for the lesson on how to properly use a dictionary. I am sure that it will come in handy someday.
    But for now; the reason all the terms of reference are in there is to satisfy full disclosure. Had I left out one or two of the points, someone would have said I was trying to hide the obvious.
    Thanks also for supporting my point, although I doubt you meant to.
    If a person was to drive distracted and go through a red light it would be completely predictable, preventable and expected that the person would crash.
    To stay with your theme...driving distracted is a controllable event. Going through a red light is a controllable event. What is unexpected about that? Sure there may be no intent, but matters concerning the Highway Traffic Act are absolute liabilities so hiding behind, "I didn't intend to kill the pedestrian when I went through the red light." doesn't fly. So...

  4. I never said that lack of intent means lack of responsibility. And no, I didn't support your point. Every accidental event, whether it's dropping a fork, stubbing a toe, or crashing a car, to an outside observer can be predicted after studying the facts. Let’s look at your quote: “TrafficServices @kvantum A tree falling on your parked car is unexpected and unintentional, but not for collision.” Meteorologists can predict that there will be a storm; gardeners can predict that a tree branch looks weak or too heavy, and will fall during a storm. Therefore, a branch falling on your parked car is truly not an accident either. It can be expected, predicted and prevented. Still unintentional though.
    To a professional it may be obvious that certain chain of events will cause an accident. Same as when people say “I accidentally wiped my drive”. To a professional, or even an enthusiast, it will be obvious that putting in a cd that says “Windows Unattended Install” and rebooting will wipe the drive, but not to someone who needs a book to know how to use MS Word.
    Using your broken logic, the word “accident” shouldn’t exist at all.
    Oh, and one more thing, why do you think all those people in government, law enforcement, insurance use the word accident? Why don’t I hear linguists saying we shouldn’t use it? Because the word “unintentional” is the key. And it makes sense to everyone except you.

  5. Hey Vlad;

    Thanks again for supporting my point. The word accident should not exist. You very eloquently showed exactly why.

    When an event is analyzed, something can always be found to explain why it happened and how to prevent it from happening again.

    If you listen carefully, you are hearing the word used less and less. Actually, in the UK and Australia the word is almost non existent, because it makes sense to everyone in safety and risk management professions.

    Thanks again.

  6. Jesus Christ. It's like talking to a wall. "Accidental" refers to "unintentional". You may notice that I said "_Using your broken logic_, the word “accident” shouldn’t exist at all."
    You are not a linguist. Stop teaching people English.
    The reason they're moving away from the word is because it softens people's feeling of responsibility. I'm not denying the fact that people should understand that it's their actions that caused the accident. Doesn't change the fact that it was unintentional.
    It's like people using "sexual assault" instead of "rape", I guess it is more politically correct. Doesn't mean "rape" is a wrong description of an event.

  7. Thanks Vlad.

    You're absolutely right, it is exactly like talking to a wall.

    Have a great day.

  8. Oy vey!

    an incident that happens by chance or without apparent cause

    The only thing I can think of, when it comes to driving, that could be an "accident" is if a meteor struck my car, hit my windshield, knocked me unconscious and I veered off into the ditch.

    In 2004, a deer jumped over a fence bordering a highway that cuts through dense forest where I live and landed right on the hood of my car at the exact moment I was driving through. The 400 pound buck traveled through my car and exited through my rear window leaving a trail of fur, blood and feces.

    There was no way I could have predicted this collision or even be prepared. It was night. It was raining and I was driving just under the speed limit. I was as cautious as could be, prepared for a deer to run out in front of me but not land on top of me.

    My adjuster referred to this crash as an accident. Actually going as far to say "it was an accident in the truest sense of the word".

    But it wasn't. Had the road not cut through a natural habitat for deer and interrupted their instinctive migration path, the deer would not have collided with my car.

    All collisions have apparent causes.

    Driving through a red = distraction. All drivers take a test to prove they can handle a car with due care and attention. We know as drivers we must focus on the road so this "didn't mean to" nonsense is a load of crap.

    More examples of didn't mean to-s:

    Hydroplaning on a wet roadway.
    Means you were driving too fast for the conditions and lacked the skill and training to recover and what to do to regain control.

    Skidding off a highway into a ditch? See above.

    Vlad, I can appreciate your interpretation but you're wrong.

  9. Give me a noun (one word) that you would use to describe an unintended unfortunate event

  10. Nope, doesn't fit
    disaster noun - a state of extreme (usually irremediable) ruin and misfortune; an occurrence that causes great distress or destruction

    I wouldn't really call accidentally stepping on someone's glasses a disaster.

  11. Well, my Dad is completely blind without his glasses and to him being in a fixed income and unable to see without them, it would be a disaster if someone stepped on them. (great distress)

    Vlad, respectfully, the point of this is that the term accident implies a lack of control and responsibility. You can't tell me one circumstance where vehicles or people collide that it was a true accident.

    It is an over-used word in a society that many people refuse to take any responsibility for their actions and embrace the word as a security blanket to scream, "Not my fault. It was an accident!"

    As long as people feel that way then we will always have a fight for safer roads because the acceptance that they did have control is lost on them.

    You are welcome to your opinion, as I am to mine. The difference between them is mine is supported by research and expert opinion. Yours is supported by, well I don't really know what supports your opinion.

  12. Any event can be scaled to a point where it is a disaster. Losing a pair of sunglasses or reading glasses is not a disaster.

    Don't get me wrong. I am not denying that the word accident in the wild has taken on a new meaning of lack or responsibility. In one of my earlier comments I did say that the word makes it easier for people to avoid feeling at fault for the accident because of that meaning. What I'm trying to say is that instead of condemning the word, why not tell people that accident doesn't mean no one's at fault and that it couldn't be prevented.
    If i accidentally step on my dad's glasses, doesn't mean it's no one's fault. It's either my fault for not seeing them, or his fault for leaving them in way of walking traffic.

    Language constantly changes. New words come in, old ones get forgotten, others start taking a new meaning that was never intended. The "chance" definition of the word accident is an example. "I accidentally ran into James on the street" implies by chance, but the word started getting that usage in "unintended" meaning. "I met James even though I didn't mean to".

    Now, the research and expert opinion in what field? Car insurance? Traffic law?
    There's research that 100% proves that global warming exists, but there's also research that 100% proves that global warming is a myth. All done around the same time. All coming from legitimate sources. How can that be?
    Give me a point to argue, and I will find research supporting that point.
    If you look deep enough into politics and history, studies are quite often done to support a point that was decided on from the start, making it a biased study.
    Check out
    It's a theory derived by Aristotle, a great philosopher. An expert in his field, if you will. For the next 2000 years the theory was considered a fact of life, with many experts agreeing with it, and with huge amount of research proving it correct.
    I'm not saying your experts are uneducated. I'm just saying that if they work in an industry that has something to do with traffic, they're biased and have an opinion from the start.

    I admire the fact that you're trying to raise awareness that in any accident, or collision, someone is at fault, and that if proper steps were taken by all parties involved, it could have been avoided. However, I have to disagree that condemning the word "accident" is the way to do it.
    I think the fact there is insurance coverage for at-fault accidents is the biggest culprit.
    If people knew that if they cause the accident they'll lose whatever the price of their car is, they will be MUCH more careful.
    But that's a different discussion altogether.

  13. This is the most idiotic thing I've read in ages. Vlad is totally right.

    For all non-scientific intents and purposes we don't live in a deterministic universe, accidents happen, even traffic accidents.