What is the Difference in Meaning Between a Crash and an Accident?

    Should Car Crashes Be Described As “Accidents”?

    When a plane crashes, we don’t call it an “accident”.  This is largely because we demand answers, and we make sure that changes are made so that it doesn’t happen again. Similarly, AAA, the Auto Club Group, would like us all to stop calling car crashes “accidents” to reflect the fact that car crashes aren’t something that just happen. They’re something we control. What is the difference in meaning between a crash and an accident? A crash is a problem we can solve. Auto accidents happen, but most crashes don’t have to. The vast majority of these incidents are entirely preventable. For example, drunk driving is an intentional decision, therefore a crash that results from an intoxicated motorist is no accident.

    36,000 of the 38,000 people who lost their lives on American roadways in 2019 could still be here today if drivers made different choices.

    According to comprehensive research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 94 percent of all crashes are the result of driver error. That means that 36,000 of the 38,800 people who lost their lives on American roadways in 2019 could still be here today if drivers made different choices. Read that again. Consider also the outcomes for the 4.4 million people injured seriously enough to require hospitalization – or the billions of dollars spent on auto insurance claims, incurred losses, medical bills, and litigation each year. All told, nearly 95 percent of it could have been avoided completely.

    What is the difference in meaning between a crash and an accident?

    Crashes aren’t accidents, and they do not have to be an inevitable, non-preventable fact of life. They are not just unfortunate events that should be accepted. Nobody “accidentally” texts and drives. They make the choice to look at their cell phone while behind the wheel. The crashes may not have happened intentionally, but the causal behavior did.

    In 2020 the Illinois State Police reported:

    • • 13,029 crashes were due to improper lane usage. This is when a driver fails to keep a proper lookout and properly stay within his lane or is weaving within his lane in an unsafe manner.
    • • 7,538 crashes were due to speeding. Speeding can be deadly and increases crash severity, as crash energy increases with speed. People often drive faster than the speed and our AAA Foundation’s Traffic Safety Culture Index finds that a large proportion of drivers confess to exceeding posted speed limits.
    • • 1,720 crashes were due to failure to yield. The purpose of right-of-way laws is to prevent conflicts resulting from one driver failing to yield and give the right of way to another. All drivers are required to exercise due care to avoid a collision, and whoever has the last clear chance to avoid a collision has an obligation to do so.
    The word “accident” tends to shift blame to the victims of car crashes and prevents people from thinking about these deaths and injuries in the context of a preventable public health challenge.

    Changing from using the word accident to crash may seem minor until you look at the data. According to research published in the December 2019 issue of Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives, the use of the word “accident” tends to shift blame to the victims of car crashes and prevents people from thinking about these deaths and injuries in the context of a preventable public health challenge. Importantly, the study concludes, ridding our lexicon of the word “accident” has “the potential to save human lives and prevent injury on a large scale.” That’s significant, given that road traffic crashes are a leading cause of death for people aged between 1 and 54, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    That potential is why NHTSA hasn’t used the term accident in its official communications since 1997, why Nevada lawmakers changed all statutory references from accident to crash in 2016, why the City of New York stopped using the “a-word” in 2014, and why the Associated Press Stylebook urges journalists to “avoid accident, which can be read by some as a term exonerating the person responsible.”

    As we kick off 2021, let us, as Illinoisans, take this important first step in preventing traffic violence.

    Consider signing the pledge at

    When to Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer

    Many car crash victims can have a lengthy and painful road to recovery with overwhelming medical expenses, loss of wages, and/or permanent disability.  If you’ve been injured in a motor vehicle crash, there are various State of Illinois laws that can help you receive compensation. Please contact the law firm of Palermo Law Group at (630)684-2332 for a free consultation with nationally recognized car accident lawyer, Mario Palermo, regarding the best approach to the legal issue of obtaining compensation for your injuries.

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