NY Safety Advocates Argue: Many Car Crashes Not 'Accidents'

NY Safety Advocates Argue: Many Car Crashes Not 'Accidents'

If representatives of the New York-based advocacy group Families for Safe Streets have their way, people will stop reflexively referring to incidents in which vehicles collide with people and objects as “accidents.” Among the chief complaints of Families for Safe Streets are the connotations that the word accident has, all of which imply that these incidents are unforeseeable and unpreventable. According to Families for Safe Streets and a partner organization called Transportation Alternatives, the language we use to describe collisions shapes public policy based on the premise that those who cause crashes are not to be held responsible for the injuries and deaths that result.

Issue is personal

For the passionate advocates associated with Families for Safe Streets, some of whom have themselves lost loved ones to car crashes, this is a cause that remains near and dear to their hearts. One of the organizations co-founders, for example, lost her 12-year-old son when he was killed by a van in front of the family home. This once grieving mother is now fighting for safer streets and enforcement of existing traffic laws.

Nothing accidental about many “accidents”

In light of certain recent New York “accidents ,”the logic behind Families for Safe Streets’ campaign seems especially sound. In one horrific recent car crash, a Johnson City man rammed a car into pedestrians in Binghamton on Parade Day, seriously injuring several individuals. Despite the fact that this was actually a deliberate act, media coverage of the incident, including an article on the driver’s indictment on criminal charges, still referred to the incident as an “accident.”

A rose by any other name?

Despite persuasive evidence such as this, the push to alter the way we describe vehicular collisions is not without its critics. According to one opponent, writer Kate Waldman of Slate quoted in The Washington Post, calling all accidents “crashes” implies guilt, when the fact remains that some crashes occur through no fault of the parties that are involved. Caroline Samponaro of Transportation Alternatives disagrees, however, noting that “crash" is actually a neutral description of an incident that can be “accidental.”