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Associated Press Cautions Journalists That Crashes Aren’t Always “Accidents”

The Associated Press has tweaked its guidance for journalists about when to call traffic collisions "accidents."

Street safety advocates, spearheaded by New York City's Transportation Alternatives, have been pushing police and media organizations to drop the term "accident" because it implies the absence of culpability -- often before all the facts are in -- and makes traffic collisions seem like random, unpreventable acts of God.

The AP style guide, a highly influential reference book for reporters, currently doesn't take a stance on whether "accident" is appropriate. A web addendum to the guide does recommend against "accident" because it's not a neutral term, but the guide itself refers to collisions as "accidents" multiple times.

The new style guide will be released June 1 and cautions against calling a crash an "accident" in cases "when negligence is claimed or proven." The AP tweeted today that "crash, collision or other terms" should be used instead.

The strange thing about the revised guidance is that "accident" is still the default term, instead of a term reserved for cases in which the absence of fault has been ascertained.

Under the AP's guidance, journalists reporting breaking news about collisions would continue to use the loaded term "accident" before an investigation has determined whether negligence or recklessness was a factor.

But hey, the AP isn't known for rapid adaptation. It's just getting around to blessing a lowercase "I" when spelling the word "internet."

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