New York DMV No Longer Describes Traffic Crashes as “Accidents” [Updated]

The current DMV data archive page ...
... and the page as it appeared in June 2012.

A sharp-eyed reader pointed out to us that the New York State DMV has stopped using the word “accident” in its annual statistical summaries.

On its 2011 data web page, and in each of its 2011 reports, DMV refers to traffic crashes as “crashes.” “Accident” does not appear in any of the agency’s 2011 materials. The header on the statistical summaries archive page was also changed from “Motor Vehicle Accidents” to “Motor Vehicle Crashes.”

To describe a traffic crash as an accident is to relieve all parties of responsibility. Though there are laws against drinking and driving, for example, as of 2010 the DMV listed alcohol-involved crashes among “accidents with human factors.”

Even when a motorist uses a car as a weapon, the media can’t break the habit. “It looked like the accident happened intentionally,” said a local reporter of a 2008 crash in the Bronx, in which a driver mowed down a man after an argument.

DMV communications staff couldn’t tell us why the change was made at this particular time, but said they expected the agency will use “crash” from now on. The department gave us this statement:

A vehicle crash encompasses a wider range of potential causes than does the term accident. An accident implies something that is not preventable. A majority of crashes are caused by intoxicated, speeding, distracted, or careless drivers and, therefore, are not accidents. That is why the term “crashes” is used not only by the New York State DMV, but also by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Good stuff. Today the DMV, tomorrow the Daily News.

(h/t to Keegan Stephan of Time’s Up!)

Update: Thanks to Transportation Alternatives, which urged the DMV to make this change.

  • Anonymous

    I thank that’s pretty fantastic news. Change that language and you change a whole range of assumptions.

  • Bolwerk

    Accident as in traffic accident (exempli gratia, “Oops! I just caused someone’s death! Oh well, off to McD’s!”) really is one of the dumbest euphemisms in the Amerikanische language.

    But rather than crash, I prefer the term casualty. Crash doesn’t cover vehicular homicide very well per se.

    Then again, some NYC drivers might actually start counting frags.

  • Bolwerk

    Accident as in traffic accident (exempli gratia, “Oops! I just caused someone’s death! Oh well, off to McD’s!”) really is one of the dumbest euphemisms in the Amerikanische language.

    But rather than crash, I prefer the term casualty. Crash doesn’t cover vehicular homicide very well per se.

    Then again, some NYC drivers might actually start counting frags.

  • Joe R.

    It’s a subtle change but one which could greatly alter the mindset of the public towards the structural vehicular violence which is inflicting our society. 

  • Awesome!  Can’t wait to use this with driver’s lawyers who object to the use of the term “crash”! thanks, Keegan!

  • JK

    Cool.  Thanks for reporting this. T.A. started a semantic crusade on this about, oh 20 years ago, it’s great to see this change by DMV. And yes words matter, ask anyone in politics — or a journalist. Speaking of which, maybe the NY Times — that arbiter of written taste — will follow suit.

  • Anonymous

    Positive change from the DMV.  Will wonders never cease?

  • We need to start leaving this fact as a comment on every article that still refers to crashes as accidents, such as this otherwise sympathetic article: http://bushwickdaily.com/2013/02/drummers-fatal-cycling-accident-shows-neighborhoods-bike-safety-problems/

  • Andrew

    Better late than never.

  • swifty

    When a system has a lot of crashes or accidents that gravely injure or kill people it should be obvious that there is something very seriously wrong with the system and not the people that use it.

  • moocow

    Good eye Keegan, thank you.

  • Aloysious Farquart

    That didn’t take long.  Only 49 states and 400,000 news sources and the FAA to go.

    The FHWA renamed their FARS database from “Fatal Accident” to “Fatality Analysis” ~1998.

    “The first thing we must recognize is that crashes are not accidents.”
    -Ricardo Martinez, M.D., NHTSA Administrator, 1997

  • Anonymous

    Ohio has referred to their annual publication as “Crash Facts” for years

    reference:
    Ohio Dept of Public Safety, Annual Crash Facts
    http://ohiohighwaysafetyoffice.ohio.gov/otso_annual_crash_facts.stm

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