4 Reasons You Should Stop Calling Vehicle Crashes “Accidents”

two firefighters at a car crash

According to the World Health Organization, road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5-29 years. And approximately 1.4 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes. And yet, many people still refer to those incidents as “accidents.”

While Americans are driving less due to the 2019 pandemic and resulting “work from home” norms of some employees, more than 40,000 people died in traffic crashes in 2020 — the largest projected number of fatalities since 2007. 

Numerous non-profit, governmental, and business leaders – including we at Together for Safer Roads (TSR)—have been encouraging people for years to stop using the word “accident” when referring to a car crash, saying that it detracts from our own empowerment and responsibility to make the roads a safer place.

Advocates say we should call the occurrences what they really are: crashes and collisions. According to The New York Times, in 2016, 28 U.S. state departments of transportation have changed their terminology from “accidents” to “crashes” yet the term “accidents” is still far too prevalent.

Crashes should not be called accidents because they are preventable. Here are four reasons why we should all stop calling road crashes “accidents.”

  1. Because the choices and behavior of people are sometimes at the heart of a crash. Speeding, drunk driving, and distracted driving can lead to crashes. Other risk factors include fatigue, stress, illicit drugs, and inexperienced driving. The way one drives is sometimes a choice made by people. When the result is a crash, calling it an “accident” negates responsibility.
  2. Because road and vehicle design may be at fault. Poorly designed and poorly maintained roads, or faulty and too big vehicles, can lead to crashes with vulnerable road users such as pedestrians who may be walking or biking. Again, to call these events “accidents” minimizes the root cause. It’s up to government, businesses, and citizens to work together to discuss, fund, research, and improve road and vehicle safety.
  3. Because laws and law enforcement can be improved. Only 34 countries have enacted laws cracking down on the five top road crash risk factors (speeding, drunk driving, seat belts, child safety restraints, and motorcycle helmets, for example). Business, people, and government should rally around making laws stricter and roads safer.
  4. Because young drivers are not educated and trained well enough. People ages 15 to 29 account for half of road deaths and injuries. Research shows that newer drivers who participate in graduated drivers license programs are better protected—as are their passengers—than those who are not trained. Drivers need to also realize that it can take trucks, depending on how fast they are going, the length of three football fields to come to a complete stop and that they have blind zones and can’t always see other road users.

Stricter laws, well-maintained and safely designed roads for all roads users, vehicle design, improved education, and heightened awareness can save lives. It all starts with accountability. And that’s no accident.