Almost since the invention of the automobile, cars have been running into one another. In fact, cars were crashing before they were even available to the public. There are lots of different ways to describe what happens when one car hits another, but “car accident” is perhaps the longest lived and most commonly used phrase. You use it, we’ve used it on our blog before and major news outlets use it every day. However, as some activists have recently pointed out, we should really stop saying “car accident” and start saying “car crash”. It’s a matter of accountability as well as good grammar.
Why is “Crash” a More Accurate Expression?
The problem with the term “car accident” is that “accident”, by its very definition, means something that no one intended and it also comes with a heavy suggestion that no one is to blame. Accidents happen, right? They happen because a series of small events come together in a seemingly random way to cause something you usually don’t want. You spilling pasta sauce on your shirt is an accident. You dumping pasta sauce on your brother’s shirt probably is not.
Car accidents, then, really aren’t accidents in the true, Webster’s Dictionary sense of the word. Most can be traced back to a preventable cause, which is often driver negligence. The fact that we call crashes “car accidents” is no accident either. In fact, way back almost 100 years ago (when there started to be enough cars on the road for wrecks to become a problem) the owners of car companies made the conscious decision to call them accidents in order to protect themselves from responsibility. Over the decades, it’s just become what we call them without thinking, just like we call hotdogs “hotdogs” (it makes no sense!).
“Car crash”, on the other hand, is an option that still describes what happens when cars hit other cars or objects, but is a more neutral term. It doesn’t imply that what happens was a willful, malicious act (like “car crime” would), but it doesn’t subtly absolve everyone of blame, either. Several states and cities have already adopted “car crash” as the official term in their laws and government documents. The Associated Press also recently released new official guidelines for professional writing that discourages “accident” in favor of “crash”.
By changing how we talk about car crashes, many believe we will change how we think about car crashes as a society. Statistically, driving is one of the most dangerous activities in the U.S., and the number of road fatalities is on the rise. A change in vocabulary isn’t going to stop all cars from getting into wrecks, but it could be one important step toward safer roadways.