Accident Or Crash?: Why Words Matter When Discussing Harm Caused By An Automobile Collision

by Kris Bonn
Car that has been in a front end collision

It may seem like a simple and inconsequential matter, but we have a policy at Bonn Law to never refer to a collision as an “accident”. The word accident implies that no one was at fault. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are very few incidents that occur that cause harm to others that are true “accidents”. In every case the incident was preventable and only occurred due to the inattention, carelessness or lack of care by one party.


Automobile incidents are virtually always preventable and therefore not accidents.

I am not alone in this view. As the New York Times reported on May 22, 2016, at least 28 states have moved away from the term “accident” when referring to roadway incidents. There is good reason to change the way we talk about roadway incidents and not call them accidents. As the New York Times article reports, “…the word [accident] has come to exonerate the driver, too, with “accident” seeming like a lightning strike beyond anyone’s control. The word accident…is seen by its critics as having “normalized mass death in this country,” whereas the word “crash” is a resurrection of the enormity of this catastrophe."

More recently, and closer to home, Brigitte Pellerin a reporter for the Ottawa Citizen, penned a column on February 27, 2020 with the following title, “Pellerin: These aren’t mere ‘accidents’ – real people crash vehicles into people”. In her column, Ms. Pellerin explains how fellow Ottawa Citizen reporter, Elizabeth Payne, never uses the word accident, “because that suggests it is not preventable.” 

As Ms. Pellerin writes, “When a news story informs you that a pedestrian was hit by a car, instead of telling you a driver killed a pedestrian with her vehicle, it masks the reality that: 1) most crashes are preventable; and 2) people are the ones responsible for their occurrence, not cars.”

Accepting the hard truth about automobile collisions and human responsibility for them.  

We need to stop calling motor vehicle crashes “accidents”. We need to recognize that motor vehicle crashes are almost entirely preventable. During these past several weeks, traffic collisions are down 80 percent across the province. This is great news. As the economy opens, let us all work together to keep motor vehicle collisions down. When we get behind the wheel and start driving keep in mind that we are control of our vehicles. There is no such thing as a motor vehicle “accident” but there are motor vehicle crashes.