Car Accident or Car Crash: What is the Difference?

Autos & Trucks

  • Author Aaron Crane
  • Published June 8, 2016
  • Word count 962

Is it an accident or a car crash? Most people consider the terminology interchangeable and the results the same; vehicles collide, and people are injured or killed. While both events may result in damaged or destroyed property and humans that are hurt or killed, an accident and a crash are not the same thing.

--- An Accident vs. a Crash ---

An accident, according the dictionary, is an unplanned and unintended event that happens suddenly and by chance and results in injury or damage. A crash, according to the dictionary, is to hit something with enough force to cause damage or destruction. These definitions seem similar, but the dictionary implies that accidents are nobody’s fault. Softening the language of the event does not lessen the harsh reality of it, especially when someone dies.

--- Crash Statistics ---

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tracks crashes each year by using FARS, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. The most recent statistics available show the following.

  • 32,675 people died in vehicle crashes in 2014

  • Victims include vehicle drivers, passengers, motorcyclists and pedestrians

  • One third of deaths resulted from drunk driving crashes

  • Distracted driving caused 10 percent of fatal crashes

  • Drowsy driving caused 2.6 percent of crash fatalities

The National Safety Council also keeps track of vehicle crashes and show even more dramatic statistics.

  • 35,400 crash fatalities in 2014

  • Alcohol caused 30.8 percent of these fatalities

  • Speeding caused 30 percent of crash fatalities

  • Distracted driving caused 26 percent of crash fatalities

--- Historical Context ---

Using the word accident to refer to incidents involving damage, injury and death was popularized by big businesses in the early 1900s. Because the word accident implies that no one is at fault, companies used it as a way to avoid accepting blame when employees were injured on the job. Later, the word became associated with negligent drivers who claimed their vehicle collision was an accident, implying they were not at fault.

"When you use the word ‘accident’ it is like, ‘God made it happen,’" says Mark Rosekind, head of the NHTSA. Safety advocates believe saying accident instead of crash trivializes the human error that is most often the cause of the crash. Another problem is when the victim dies and cannot tell their side of the story. Only the survivor gets to be heard and they may be the one who caused the crash. According to Amy Cohen, co-founder of Families for Safe Streets, children who die in crashes, including her 12-year-old son, do not die in accidents. She says, "An ‘accident’ implies that nothing could have been done to prevent their deaths."

--- Swapping Words ---

Transportation and safety advocates are pushing to eliminate the word accident and use crash exclusively. Using the stronger, more accurate word, they believe, will help drivers grasp the seriousness of reckless and negligent behavior while driving. With the change, motorists are expected to realize and admit that vehicle collisions are preventable most of the time. Advocates believe this will make drivers less likely to drive under the influence or drive while distracted. They also hope the word change leads to policy changes that can help reduce traffic crashes, injuries and deaths.

The NHTSA changed its terminology in 1997. Others are finally catching on. On January 1, 2016, Nevada swapped "accident" for "crash" in many state legal documents and laws. By doing so, those involved in crashes are no longer afforded the presumption that no one is to blame after a collision. Departments of Transportation in 28 states officially use the word crash, including Arizona. Many cities also changed the words. New York City made a policy change in 2014 that mandated they must not look at traffic crashes as accidents.

--- The Reality of What Happens ---

When two or more vehicles collide, resulting in the destruction of property and loss of life, how did it happen? Something triggered the events that led to the collision, meaning something, or someone, is at fault. In a small percentage of cases, the crash is caused by non-driver actions, such as vehicle design defects, a tire blow-out, animals crossing a street, poorly maintained roadways or certain weather conditions. However, most of the time, human error causes vehicle collisions, and in those cases, it is definitely not an accident.

--- Human Error ---

As expected, human error makes up for the majority of reasons why car accidents happen. Over the years, more people are focusing their eyes on other things when they should be focusing on the road. Other elements of human error caused car accidents are as follow:

  • Driving under the influence

  • Distracted driving (talking on a cell phone, texting, not paying attention)

  • Reckless driving (speeding, tailgating, changing lanes too quickly)

  • Running red lights and stop signs

  • Improper turns

  • Road rage

  • Drowsy driving

--- New Word, Same Ending ---

So, what happens now? The word "accident" is replaced with "crash" but someone’s car is still totaled, someone is injured and someone is dead. Just because the person who caused the collision calls it an accident does not make it so. Did that person choose to drive and text or drive after taking medicine? Someone did something or made a choice that led to the crash. That someone should be held responsible for their actions.

If you are injured in a crash or had a loved one die from a collision, talk to a car accident lawyer who understands how important it is to use the right words. Saying it was an accident could allow the person responsible to be held to a lower standard of accountability. You deserve to be compensated for any loss of property, medical bills and lost wages. Get a lawyer who understands accidents do not just happen and who will fight to level the playing field so that you recover everything you lost.

Attorney Aaron Crane from the Phoenix law firm Cantor Crane, has over 14 years as a highly trained and experienced car accident lawyer.

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