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Media Watch

Help TA and Families for Safe Streets Convince the AP to Drop “Accident”

Even when a motorist is accused of intentionally causing a crash, the press calls it an “accident.” Advocates are hoping the Associated Press will help change that. Image: Shelbyville Times-Gazette
Even when a motorist is accused of purposely causing a crash, the press calls it an “accident.” Advocates are hoping the Associated Press will help change that. Image: Shelbyville Times-Gazette
Even when a motorist is accused of intentionally causing a crash, the press calls it an “accident.” Advocates are hoping the Associated Press will help change that. Image: Shelbyville Times-Gazette

The word “accident” is so ingrained in media practice that reporters use it to describe basically any motor vehicle crash scenario, even when a driver is impaired or accused of using a car as a weapon. This is harmful because it disregards the fact that most collisions can be traced to preventable causes, including reckless driving and unsafe street design.

To break reporters and editors of the habit, Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets are lobbying the Associated Press to remove “accident” from its style guide in favor of the neutral term “crash.” The AP is currently accepting public input for its 2016 Stylebook.

“When people view preventable tragedies as ‘accidents,’ that erodes public and political will to enact changes, changes that have been proven to save lives, changes like street redesigns and better enforcement,” said Paul Steely White, TA executive director, in a press release. “We’ve seen government agencies like the NYPD change their approach to crash investigations by dropping the word ‘accident.’ By changing the language we use when we talk about street safety, media outlets like the Associated Press have the power to change not only the conversation, but also the culture.”

The groups are encouraging people to submit style guide suggestions directly to the AP. Check out this 2013 story by Angie Schmitt for background on how the AP advises reporters and editors to describe traffic collisions.

There is also a Twitter account and web site dedicated to convincing media outlets, law enforcers, and others to “drop the ‘A’ word.” There will be a related rally and march in Manhattan on November 15, for World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.

“The word ‘accident’ is demeaning to people who have survived a crash or lost a loved one in traffic” said Amy Cohen, a Families for Safe Streets member whose son Sammy was killed by motorist. “By refusing to say ‘accident,’ we are reminding everyone that we can fix dangerous streets, and we can deter careless, negligent and reckless driving.”

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