Some road safety causes, the effort to end drunk driving among them, have been going on for decades, even generations. But one is fairly recent, and it concerns words rather than deeds. In a number of countries around the world there is a push to drop the word “accident” when talking about road collisions.
We’re still used to hearing about a “deadly drunk-driving accident” on this or that route. But consider the circumstances: a person who is fully aware that alcohol affects driving abilities chooses to drink and drive, and then crashes. How is this an accident. The driver in question was engaging in behaviour that’s proven to be risky.
If one were to dangle a child from a balcony, and then drop her, would the newspapers term that an “accident?”
The movement has a hashtag – #crashnotaccident – and it’s gradually moving into the mainstream. Back in April the Associated Press’s stylebook began instructing writers not to refer to road collisions as accidents. They took a legalistic attitude:
When negligence is claimed or proven, avoid accident, which can be read as exonerating the person responsible. #ACES2016
— AP Stylebook (@APStylebook) April 2, 2016
CPSAC – the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada – teaches members not to use the A-word as well, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada has not used the word in twenty-five years. The “crash not accident” movement is on a solid footing, with little resistance apart from a few who feel more comfortable with the older term. A search for “road accident Canada” will yield a few entries from private sources. Government documents, such as those from Transport Canada, refer to “Motor Vehicle Traffic Collisions.”
The dictionary definition of an accident is an unexpected and unintentional occurrence: something without deliberate cause. Yet to drink and drive is to flout deliberately known odds for a safe trip home. Drunk driving is an intentional disregard for safety, and as such, it is no accident. Calling it one excuses the driver from an act that was the result of a conscious choice.
Calling things what they really are is a step towards dealing realistically with the problem – and drunk driving is still a problem in Canada, claiming around a thousand lives each year. That’s something to remember when we put these sad events into words.