The incidents which generations of people have grown up calling “road accidents” or “highway accidents” are wrongly named — they need to be referred to as crashes or collisions — but if this sounds like nothing more than silly word-play and semantics to you, read on, because there is a very important reason behind it.
This recommendation that people — especially the media — stop calling crashes “accidents” is by no means our idea at Advanced Drivers of North America [ADoNA], but for reasons that I will explain below, we do wholeheartedly support it.
The push to get people to change their wording from “accidents” to either crashes or collisions started in the field of medicine, back in the late 1970s, and has grown steadily since then. 
… No more pretence that anything but a tiny minority of crashes are unavoidable, blameless “accidents!”
There are two key reasons for also using this approach specifically in terms of driving, and they are:
- To get the bulk of the public to realize that aggressive, selfish, distracted, lazy or inept driving are a massive part of the cause of road crashes, injuries and deaths, and that this is simply unacceptable from the drivers concerned;
- To get drivers to grasp that if they inexcusably cause serious injuries or worse, because of incompetent or unacceptable driving, they will at the very least be punished for it and will also lose respect from everyone around them — as has increasingly become the case for drunk-drivers over the years. (And this, in turn, would benefit greatly from more proactive enforcement — preferably without any need for a complaint, just a law enforcement officer’s own appraisal — and more effective work by the courts.)
In short, it is our attitude to crashes and all of the resultant harm that needs to improve, so this suggested change of wording is an important part of creating that change.
No more empty excuses — either given or accepted! No more pretence that anything but a tiny minority of crashes are unavoidable, blameless “accidents!”
The first stage in my own career in Traffic Safety was as a traffic patrol police officer — more recently known as a roads policing officer — in Britain. That is naturally a job in which one attends and investigates many serious crashes and then starts to gain great insight in that particular aspect of road safety.
For my own part, I found three specific parts of the job to be emotionally challenging, and I know it was the same for many if not all of my colleagues. The obvious one of these was dealing with people who one minute had been having a normal day and the next minute were mutilated or dead, often in a visibly very brutal manner — especially, it must be said, if the victims were young people.
“It wasn’t my fault, officer. It was an accident!”
Worse than this, however, was having to visit the next of kin — which we always did in person, never by phone God forbid — to tell them that one or more loved members of their family had been killed. This was a horrendous task that rather obviously never gets any easier.
But the third issue that used to bother me greatly were drivers who even at that pre-investigation stage appeared to be potentially responsible for causing the death/s and injuries who, when asked what had happened, would quickly say words to the effect that “It wasn’t my fault, officer. It was an accident!”
[The word] “accident” conveys a sense that the losses are due exclusively to fate. Perhaps this is what gives “accident” its most potent appeal – the sense that it exonerates participants from responsibility. 
Often, though, the full investigation — which could take many weeks to complete — would show that the drivers who had been so quick to deny any responsibility were in fact guilty of serious wrongdoings or omissions and had indeed caused or partially caused the crash and the casualties.
The fact is, however, that the vast majority of crashes are avoidable because — for just one of multiple reasons — here in the USA, 94 percent of crashes include driver error as one of the causing factors. 
Remove the driver error and there’s a very good chance that the crash will be avoided.
So there’s a very sobering thought: If everybody drove well (as most people will try to tell you that they already do), then up to 19 out of every 20 crashes could be avoided, 19 out of every 20 road crash injuries could be avoided, and most important of all, 19 out of every 20 highway deaths could be avoided. Based on the most recent figures available [i.e. 2016] at the time of writing this article, this would represent 35,530 American lives saved every single year, and the annual death toll cut from an outrageous 37,400 a year to “just” 1,870, which would be fantastic but still 1,870 too many.
In very recent years, several American States have set themselves the goal of completely eradicating road deaths, typically by the year 2030.
This is a very laudable and important thing to do — challenging targets are vital in road safety. But sadly, for decades, the USA has performed far less successfully in highway safety than any other developed nation , so achieving what is internationally known as Target Zero within the next 12 years would seem to be more than a little unlikely, even with the dawning of the age of semi-autonomous and even fully “self-driving” vehicles. None-the-less, aiming for that priceless goal will definitely be a great help.
Now, let’s not get this wrong. There are literally dozens of factors that can contribute to the cause of a bad crash, and very rarely is just one factor solely responsible, but the fact that remains is if we take away the driver error, the other factors present in any particular incident are much less likely to result in a crash.
Some experts have said that blaming drivers for crashes is simply wrong, but as just one counterpoint, this argument ignores differences in crash and casualty rates between countries with good standards and in-depth driver training with those that have poor standards or give people inadequate or inaccurate information or training.
The most important thing for increased personal ability in avoiding crashes is for the driver to be using a time- and research-proven, systematic method of driving, including among many other aspects, good observations, appropriate speeds, and safe following distances.
At Advanced Drivers of North America [ADoNA] we are unique in the USA in teaching what is known either as the System of Car Control (although it works perfectly for any type of road-going vehicle, not just cars), or “I.P.S.G.A.”, which abbreviation we explain to all trainees. This training is suitable for all work-related driving, whether it’s for your executives, sales fleet, delivery drivers or chauffeurs, so if maximum safety is your goal, please visit our Courses page for more insight into the training and from where you can contact us.
Footnotes & References
- ADoNA Webpage
- Excerpt: Fifteen years ago [i.e. 1978] Doege argued in an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine that it was time “for medicine to dispose of the idea of ‘accident’ and ‘accidental injury’.” Others have also reasoned persuasively that the conceptual ambiguities encompassed in the word accident disqualify it from technical use, notwithstanding its near universal general use. Yet its use in medical settings continues to mislead. “Accident” conveys a sense that the losses incurred are due to fate and are therefore devoid of rational explanation or predictability. Yet the motivation to study subjects like traffic safety is to discover factors that influence the likelihood of occurrence of, and resulting harm from, “crashes,” the preferred term. There are very few traffic related deaths for which the word crash is inappropriate (the minuscule fraction of deaths from drowning and fires not initiated by crashes). Some crashes are purposeful acts, including suicide56 and homicide, for which the word accident would be inappropriate even in popular use…. BMJ, 1993 Dec 4; 307(6917): 1438–1439 (at which go to Full Text and click on Full Article. See ‘Medical accidents: no such thing?’)
- Excerpt: “…[The word] accident conveys a sense that the losses are due exclusively to fate. Perhaps this is what gives accident its most potent appeal — the sense that it exonerates participants from responsibility. Accident also conveys a sense that losses are devoid of predictability…” Evans L., Traffic Safety, ISBN 0-9754871-0-8, published by Science Serving Society; Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. 2004.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA]
- ADoNA: Latest Multi-National VMT Road Death Rates – USA Makes Least Progress 1990-2015