Safety is no accident, says Carr
Maryland Delegates Al Carr (D-Kensington) and Bill Bronrott (D-Bethesda) have introduced a bill to replace the word "accident" with "crash" in the state's laws. The House will hold a hearing on the bill this afternoon.
The bill would use the word "crash" instead of "accident" where it occurs in the laws of the State of Maryland, such as in the sections requiring police reports after certain types of crashes, requiring drivers to provide insurance information after a crash, etc.
This may seem like a triviality, but it matters. While "accident" has become a common term for these types of vehicular incidents, it also carries a connotation of being beyond the reasonable control of any person.
We have the phrase, "it was just an accident," where "just" in that case implies blamelessness. Some uses of the word "accident" imply a complete lack of agency by the parties as well, such as "chance; fortune; luck: I was there by accident." There's also the phrase "an accident of birth," over which the individual involved has no control.
Merriam-Webster defines "accident" as "an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance." While certainly crashes are unplanned and even unforeseen by the parties involved, they are often not unforeseeable; many so-called "accidents" stem from drunk driving, speeding, and poor road design. There are many specific locations and times of day where crashes occur frequently, and while we don't foresee the specifics, we absolutely foresee the general occurrences.
In fact, crash reporting sometimes even uses the term "accident" when there is a clear intention, and the incident is neither unplanned nor unforeseen, such as in those tragic cases where a driver has purposefully run down a cyclist or pedestrian. Those are certainly no accident.
The bill proposes the word "crash." Unlike "accident," "crash" implies nothing about the humans involved. It doesn't suggest that they had no control, but neither does it insinuate that they did. It says nothing about whether the incident was foreseen or not, or foreseeable or not. Vehicles collided; the technical term for this is a "crash." Crashes can be major or minor; they can be entirely happenstance with no blame or they can even be intentional.
"Crash" speaks to the physical event that took place, whereas "accident" speaks to the circumstances. Since exchanging of insurance information, police reports, and the other subjects with which Maryland law concerns itself take place before most facts have been established, using a neutral term like "crash" is the appropriate course of action.
Other jurisdictions have established "neutral language policies" that go beyond this bill. In addition to using neutral terms in laws, some policies ask police to use "crash" in place of "accident" in incident reports and public statements, for example. That would be a good step to take as well, though this bill is a good start. Kudos to Carr and Bronrott for sponsoring this legislation.
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