Crashes versus Accidents and Responsibility

In Arizona when a traffic collision occurred we used to have “accident reports,” now police agencies label it as an “Arizona Crash Report.”

A recent Washington Post article “When a car ‘crash’ isn’t an ‘accident’ – and why the difference matters” raises responsibility and safety issues. Specific words like accident or crash can have a significant effect on whether conduct should equate to bearing responsibility or not.

Some contend that an accident is by definition, unintentional, like dropping dinner plates or sending an email before it is completed, something unforeseen, and responsibility may be excused.

However, another view arises when, for example, traffic collisions are discussed. When a vehicle goes around a corner and hits a pedestrian that may be properly considered a crash, not an accident.

An accident implies that nothing could have been done to prevent the injury or death. If accident is the word or the interpretation, then no one is deemed to bear responsibility, if so, how seriously are we going to consider how to design safer streets, products, or enforce traffic laws or prevent injuries?

In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, states that the vast majority of all fatal and non-fatal injuries in the U.S., including traffic injuries, are not acts of fate, they are predictable and preventable.

If what happened is instead considered a crash then serious questions can be asked. How did this happen? How could this have been prevented? Should there be responsibility for someone’s conduct?

This discussion is evolving over time. Previously, factory owners might say that “it was an accident” when a worker was injured due to unsafe conditions, or a drunk driver may say that “it was an accident” when he crashed his car and seriously injured someone.

How we talk about an injury event may change views on accountability and safety policy and practices.