Crash or 'accident'?

Discussion in 'UK and Europe' started by Howard, Jan 26, 2003.

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  1. Howard

    Howard Guest

    I frequently listen to Radio 2 in the mornings but invariably find myself becoming agitated by the
    Traffic News. It is not so much the constant reminder of just how badly people drive, or the level
    of congestion that no one (apart from Ken Livingstone) seems prepared to tackle. What gets me is the
    constant use of the word ‘accident' to refer to road crashes. Why?

    The constant use of the word ‘accident', especially by journalists, to refer even to those crashes
    caused by the most blatant dangerous driving seems to me one reason why we all seem to be in denial
    of the realities of our ‘car culture'.

    ‘Accident' has a number of connotations that a more neutral word such as ‘crash' does not. Common
    phrases include ‘Accidents happen'. This implies that they are inevitable and that there is nothing
    that can be done to avoid them, which when it comes to road deaths is just not true. Another common
    phrase people use is ‘It was just an accident' or even ‘I didn't mean it, it was just an accident'.
    The subtext to this phrase is, of course, ‘It was not my fault' or ‘I refuse to accept any
    responsibility for what has happened'. (A universal problem with road crashes where everyone feels
    someone else must be to blame). In short, the overuse of the word ‘accident' seems to encourage the
    general view that no one is to blame for road deaths and injuries.

    I rang radio 2 about this and ‘Sally Traffic' did me the courtesy of ringing me back. I was told
    that the use of the word ‘accident' was not BBC policy but that she would never use ‘crash' as she
    believed the word is ‘sensationalist'. (And of course we mustn't be ‘sensationalist' about anything
    as mundane as road deaths must we...). I have also read that some commercial stations do have a
    policy of not using the word ‘crash', especially in the mornings, as it is felt this is more likely
    to upset listeners about to start their day.

    There are plenty of other example of ‘the culture of denial' being expressed in language. For
    example, another common phrase is ‘The car went out of control' when what is really meant is ‘The
    driver lost control of the car'. We also say such things as ‘The pedestrian was killed by the car',
    even when they have been run down on a pedestrian crossing and what we really mean is ‘The
    pedestrian was killed by the car driver'.

    Strangely enough cyclists seem to have much less problem calling ‘a spade a spade' and the word
    ‘crash' is used in preference by most cycling magazines when they describe racing cyclists ‘coming a
    box of tricks'. (Copyright David Duffield). It even sounds a bit odd to say ‘Ullrich has had an
    accident on the descent' Almost universally magazines and commentators will just say ‘Ullrich has
    crashed' without this been considered to be ‘sensationalist'. Then again cyclists are not living in
    denial of the realities of the ‘car culture'...

    The philosopher Wittgenstein said that ‘the limit of my language is the limit of my world'. Given
    this if we are to make people less accepting of road deaths do we need to challenge the comforting
    language that the upholders of the car culture use to put a less threatening spin on the harsh
    realities of road deaths. (And by drivers to avoid having to accept individual responsibility)? Or
    is a simple word such as ‘crash' really ‘sensationalist'?

    For another take on this topic read ‘Call it Slaughter' at

    http://www.bokeh.net/BikeReader/contributors/Field/slaughter.html

    Any comments welcome.

    Regards,

    Howard Peel.

    www.thebikezone.org.uk
     
    Tags:


  2. [email protected] (Howard) wrote: ( Strangely enough cyclists seem to have much less problem
    calling ‘a ) spade a spade' and the word ‘crash' is used in preference by most ( cycling magazines
    when they describe racing cyclists ‘coming a box of ) tricks'. (Copyright David Duffield). It even
    sounds a bit odd to say ( ‘Ullrich has had an accident on the descent' Almost universally )
    magazines and commentators will just say ‘Ullrich has crashed' without ( this been considered to be
    ‘sensationalist'. Then again cyclists are ) not living in denial of the realities of the ‘car
    culture'...

    I have said this before in urc, but let me say it again: the big difference between a cyclist and a
    car (rather than a bicycle and a car driver) is that you see the cyclist, but you cannot really see
    the car driver. There are deep unconscious process in the visual system of the brain that identify
    "agents", and it's pretty obvious what the evolutionary advantage of these has been. (It is pretty
    obvious to anyone who has ever walked down a country lane at night what the disadvantages are.) If
    one's unconscious has already labelled cars as agents, one needs to make a conscious effort to
    realise that they are, or ought to be, in the control of essentially invisible human drivers.
     
  3. Paul - XXX

    Paul - XXX Guest

    Howard, in news:[email protected] scribbled ;

    > I frequently listen to Radio 2 in the mornings but invariably find myself becoming agitated by the
    > Traffic News. It is not so much the constant reminder of just how badly people drive, or the level
    > of congestion that no one (apart from Ken Livingstone) seems prepared to tackle. What gets me is
    > the constant use of the word 'accident' to refer to road crashes. Why?

    <snipped>

    > Any comments welcome.

    Does it really matter ?

    If you get annoyed enough that a word causes you to ring into a radio station in an attempt to
    change policy to your way of thinking, then I suggest you either get too agitated too easily, or you
    need to chill a little and get a life .. ;)

    --
    ...................................Paul-xxx Seti 1330 wu in 9275 hours
     
  4. "Howard" <[email protected]> wrote
    >What gets me is the constant use of the word 'accident' >to refer to road
    crashes.

    I think this is an excellent point. The problem, though, is that the word 'accident' is in common
    usage to describe all kinds of motoring incidents and most people know that these can be serious or
    fatal. My dictionary gives "a misfortune or mishap, esp. one causing injury or death" among several
    meanings of the word. In this context the word isn't really meant to convey a meaning of chance or
    unintention. That's why you can say that "someone caused an accident". Still, it's obvious that the
    word does not have the same import as 'murder', 'assault', 'killing' and others and does suggest
    that the causer was somehow not wholly to blame.

    What words could we encourage the use of instead? 'Incident' seems to be very flexible - 'serious
    incident', 'fatal incident', 'incident in which a cyclist was seriously injured'.

    Anyone have any other thoughts?
     
  5. Tony W

    Tony W Guest

    "Howard" <[email protected]> wrote in message
    news:[email protected]...
    > I frequently listen to Radio 2 in the mornings but invariably find myself becoming agitated by the
    > Traffic News. It is not so much the constant reminder of just how badly people drive, or the level
    > of congestion that no one (apart from Ken Livingstone) seems prepared to tackle. What gets me is
    > the constant use of the word 'accident' to refer to road crashes. Why?

    snip

    Blatant bad driving or not, incompetence or not, stupidity of not -- drivers do not purposely smash
    into things. OK, the effect of their incompetence may make such a smash inevitable -- but they are
    not intentional.

    Crash is simply an onamatapic word describing two bodies crushing together -- intentionally or
    otherwise. Accident is, perhaps, a little soft but it does reflect the lack of intention and we all
    know what it means.

    Furthermore, crash somehow does not adequately describe those 'accidents' where a tonne or two of
    metal is driven into a soft target such as a pedestrian or a cyclist -- perhaps a squelch would
    be better.

    What annoys me is not the language so much as the presumption that this event which probably
    involved human tragedy is reported just as a hold up on the roads to inconvenience the hoards
    rushing from A to B for no apparent reason.

    T
     
  6. "Howard" <[email protected]> wrote in message
    news:[email protected]...
    >
    > The constant use of the word 'accident', especially by journalists, to refer even to those crashes
    > caused by the most blatant dangerous driving seems to me one reason why we all seem to be in
    > denial of the realities of our 'car culture'.
    >
    lots of snips

    > Regards,
    >
    > Howard Peel.

    Dead right, the use of the word "accident" is a deliberate attempt to mislead. I was at a meeting
    yesterday with a consultant who said that they no longer use the word, they use "collision" instead,
    as this was what the police now use in official-speak. Seems like a more accurate word to me.

    cheers Rich
    >
    > www.thebikezone.org.uk
     
  7. Tony Raven

    Tony Raven Guest

    Howard <[email protected]> wrote:
    > I frequently listen to Radio 2 in the mornings but invariably find myself becoming agitated by the
    > Traffic News. <snip exposition on
    accidents>

    You are putting too narrow interpretation of the word accident - an accident can equally be an
    unexpected event and since most people do not expect or intend to crash it is an accident.

    In addition unless you know the details of how it occurred it seems presumptuous to ascribe blame. A
    car may have crashed with a cyclist but we don't know whether it was as a result of an error by the
    driver or by the cyclist or an external event (e.g swerving to avoid a child). Accident records
    would seem to proportion the causality equally between cyclists and motorists so the assumption it
    is always the motorist's fault is not warranted.

    Tony

    http://www.raven-family.com

    "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place" George
    Bernard Shaw.
     
  8. Pete Biggs

    Pete Biggs Guest

    I think the objection is unnecessarily emotive and nearly as silly as demanding that we use "walker"
    instead of "pedestrian" because pedestrian can mean undistinguished or ordinary.

    It's strange to object the use of a word because you don't like one of its alternative definitions.
    In the context of road incidents, we all know exactly what it means. "Accident" has been used for
    crashes so much for so long that it is used in this context with no implication of intention and
    blame, etc. It does just mean what it is. People vary rarely deliberately drive their vehicle into
    another. Changing words changes little. No matter what you call it, shit is still nasty stuff.

    I don't think "accident" lightens anything at all. How do we feel when get a phone call and the
    first thing said is "There's been an accident"?

    http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=accident : "1 a. An unexpected and undesirable event,
    especially one resulting in damage or harm". [RTA's are not desirable and the parties involved
    rarely expect them] "1 b. An unforeseen incident: A series of happy accidents led to his promotion.
    "1 c. An instance of involuntary urination or defecation in one's clothing. "2. Lack of intention;
    chance: ran into an old friend by accident. "3. Logic. A circumstance or attribute that is not
    essential to the nature of something"

    ~PB
     
  9. Andyp

    Andyp Guest

    I have for a long while struggled to understand communication. It is a two way event. If YOU
    understand what is meant when "accident" is used in a traffic report then "accident" is the
    right word.

    The problem is that very few of use will use exactly the same words to describe anything. Therefore
    as receivers of verbal or written communication we have to try and think of the intent and meaning
    that was intended rather any strict definition of specific words.

    The local traffic reports I listen too often use the word "incident" to describe a shooting, bomb
    blast, fire etc. Whether the word accident, incident or crash is used the result, in terms of a
    traffic report are the same and conveys to the listener what they need to know. So the communication
    has worked.

    AndyP
     
  10. Danny Colyer

    Danny Colyer Guest

    Howard wrote:
    > The constant use of the word 'accident', especially by journalists, to refer even to those crashes
    > caused by the most blatant dangerous driving seems to me one reason why we all seem to be in
    > denial of the realities of our 'car culture'.

    I agree wholeheartedly, and am surprised to see that so many people here don't. A common argument is
    that alternative words imply blame, and that it's wrong to apportion blame too soon.

    Well, the very reason I don't like the word 'accident' is that it implies no blame. As far as
    I'm concerned, when a vehicle is in collision there is always fault somewhere. The fault may be
    very minor
    (e.g. it may have been near impossible to avoid slipping on a patch of
    ega), but it is there and I think it is important to recognise that. I agree that it is important
    not to immediately apportion blame, but there is a world of difference between apportioning
    blame and accepting that *someone* made a mistake.

    > 'Accident' has a number of connotations that a more neutral word such as 'crash' does not. Common
    > phrases include 'Accidents happen'. This implies that they are inevitable and that there is
    > nothing that can be done to avoid them,

    Exactly. The use of the word 'accident' for traffic incidents tends to sanitise those incidents in
    peoples' minds. It is very wrong, IMHO, to sanitise something as horrific and avoidable as the
    carnage on our roads. Rather, it is important to make all road users aware of the dangers posed by
    all forms of transport, and the dangers that every road user, and every class of road user, pose to
    every other. In particular, anyone in charge of any vehicle, whether, bike, motorbike, car, bus or
    juggernaut, should be aware of the dangers that they pose to others and the dangers that others
    pose to them.

    > It even sounds a bit odd to say 'Ullrich has had an accident on the descent'

    I now have an image in my mind of him requesting a clean pair of shorts from the team car :)

    > The philosopher Wittgenstein said that 'the limit of my language is the limit of my world'. Given
    > this if we are to make people less accepting of road deaths do we need to challenge the comforting
    > language that the upholders of the car culture use to put a less threatening spin on the harsh
    > realities of road deaths.

    Couldn't agree more.

    --
    Danny Colyer (remove safety to reply) ( http://www.juggler.net/danny ) Recumbent cycle page:
    http://www.speedy5.freeserve.co.uk/recumbents/ "He who dares not offend cannot be honest." -
    Thomas Paine
     
  11. "Paul - xxx" <[email protected]> wrote>
    > Does it really matter ?
    >
    > If you get annoyed enough that a word causes you to ring into a radio station in an attempt to
    > change policy to your way of thinking, then I suggest you either get too agitated too easily, or
    > you need to chill a little and get a life .. ;)
    >

    Yes, it does matter. People assume that drivers can "accidentally" kill cyclists and pedestrians
    even though many of these situations are completely within their control, caused by their own lack
    of consideration and not deterministic in the sense conveyed by the word 'accident'.
     
  12. Tony W

    Tony W Guest

    "Michael MacClancy" <[email protected]> wrote in message
    news:[email protected]...

    snip

    >
    > What words could we encourage the use of instead? 'Incident' seems to be very flexible - 'serious
    > incident', 'fatal incident', 'incident in which a cyclist was seriously injured'.

    Incident is much loved by the nuclear industry as in 3 Mile Island Incident or Chernobyl Incident
    or, in normal speak, we've cocked up & just irradiated half the planet.

    The oil industry also likes incident -- as in we've just polluted a million miles of beach and wiped
    out 15 species.

    No, sorry, 'incident' carries too much horror for a simple multi car pile up.

    Event might be possible -- though again the nuclear industry like this when Incident sounds too
    inconsequential.

    You need a warmer, less threatening word -- perhaps 'happening' though the older amongst us don't
    remember happenings we were at in the 60's :)

    T
     
  13. "Pete Biggs" <pLime{remove_fruit}@biggs.tc> wrote > I think the objection is unnecessarily emotive
    and nearly as silly as
    > demanding that we use "walker" instead of "pedestrian" because pedestrian can mean undistinguished
    > or ordinary.
    >
    > snipped

    I have the impression that there are people on this NG who don't think that a change of attitude
    towards cyclists is necessary.

    There were probably plenty of people who didn't see any reasons to stop using sexist words or
    insulting racist words in normal conversation but the words' removal does seem to have brought about
    changes in attitudes.
     
  14. "Paul - xxx" <[email protected]> wrote in message
    news:[email protected]...
    > Howard, in news:[email protected] scribbled
    ;
    >
    > > I frequently listen to Radio 2 in the mornings but invariably find myself becoming agitated by
    > > the Traffic News. It is not so much the constant reminder of just how badly people drive, or the
    > > level of congestion that no one (apart from Ken Livingstone) seems prepared to tackle. What gets
    > > me is the constant use of the word 'accident' to refer to road crashes. Why?
    >
    > <snipped>
    >
    > > Any comments welcome.
    >
    > Does it really matter ?

    To some extent, yes. I'm on the camp that would say 'accident' is a word that doesn't strongly
    suggest that someone was responsible in the same way that 'collision' does.

    > If you get annoyed enough that a word causes you to ring into a radio station in an attempt to
    > change policy to your way of thinking, then I suggest you either get too agitated too easily, or
    > you need to chill a little and get a life .. ;)
    >

    I take it that you wouldn't be impressed by someone who posted to a newsgroup to say how annoying
    they found the phrase 'get a life'.

    Anyway, it is possible to do things without being agitated about it, just doing them because you
    think they're the right thing to do. It makes life calmer and pleasanter, too.

    Ambrose
     
  15. Howard

    Howard Guest

    Hi everyone,

    Thanks for contributing to this topic. Lots of interesting opinions.

    Those really interested in the topic might like to look at the 'Rocktalk' forum which has an
    extensive thread on this issue. 'Rocktalk?' Whats that? Rocktalk is one of the best forums in the
    country if you want a good middle of the road debate on just about any topic. (It is also has the
    best forum layout I have come across). Most contributors are, naturally, rock climbers but plenty of
    cyclists climb as well (me included). Intelligent comment guranteed! Have a look at

    http://www.rockfax.com/rocktalk/t.php?t=34327&new=462429#462429

    Regards,

    Howard

    www.thebikezone.org.uk
     
  16. Tony Raven

    Tony Raven Guest

    Danny Colyer <[email protected]> wrote:
    >
    > Well, the very reason I don't like the word 'accident' is that it implies no blame. As far as
    > I'm concerned, when a vehicle is in collision there is always fault somewhere. The fault may be
    > very minor
    > (e.g. it may have been near impossible to avoid slipping on a patch of
    > ice), but it is there and I think it is important to recognise that. I agree that it is important
    > not to immediately apportion blame, but there is a world of difference between apportioning
    > blame and accepting that *someone* made a mistake.
    >

    I didn't know you were an American lawyer.

    Tony ;-)

    http://www.raven-family.com

    "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place" George
    Bernard Shaw.
     
  17. Pete Biggs

    Pete Biggs Guest

    Michael MacClancy wrote:
    > Yes, it does matter. People assume that drivers can "accidentally" kill cyclists and pedestrians

    Well, they do. They rarely deliberately kill.

    > even though many of these situations are completely within their control

    I don't see how something can't be an accident just because error of judgement or poor skill is
    involved. What does "accidental handball" mean?

    ~PB
     
  18. Paul - XXX

    Paul - XXX Guest

    Michael MacClancy, in news:[email protected] scribbled ;

    > "Paul - xxx" <[email protected]> wrote>
    >> Does it really matter ?
    >>
    >> If you get annoyed enough that a word causes you to ring into a radio station in an attempt to
    >> change policy to your way of thinking, then I suggest you either get too agitated too easily, or
    >> you need to chill a little and get a life .. ;)
    >>
    >
    > Yes, it does matter. People assume that drivers can "accidentally" kill cyclists and pedestrians
    > even though many of these situations are completely within their control, caused by their own lack
    > of consideration and not deterministic in the sense conveyed by the word 'accident'.

    Bullshit.

    Why are you assuming that it's always the drivers fault that cyclists and pedestrians die ?

    While it's terrible that anyone dies, it may have had nothing to do with the driver, and may have
    been the dead cyclist / pedestrian that caused the 'accident', 'collision', 'event', whatever you
    want to call it.

    The wording used to describe such a catastrophe really is, or perhaps ought to be, of absolutely
    minor concern.

    Just 'cos you hear an 'accident' caused the death of a cyclist doesn't automatically mean it wasn't
    the cyclists fault. I know this, absolutely, from personal experience.

    --
    ...................................Paul-xxx Seti 1330 wu in 9275 hours
     
  19. Pete Biggs

    Pete Biggs Guest

    Michael MacClancy wrote:
    > "Pete Biggs" <pLime{remove_fruit}@biggs.tc> wrote > I think the objection is unnecessarily emotive
    > and nearly as silly as
    >> demanding that we use "walker" instead of "pedestrian" because pedestrian can mean
    >> undistinguished or ordinary.
    >>
    >> snipped
    >
    > I have the impression that there are people on this NG who don't think that a change of attitude
    > towards cyclists is necessary.

    Well, I'm not one of them. A change of attitude is needed but changing words won't help, IMO.

    > There were probably plenty of people who didn't see any reasons to stop using sexist words or
    > insulting racist words in normal conversation but the words' removal does seem to have brought
    > about changes in attitudes.

    I disagree. Racists and sexists just use different (but equally disgusting) words as fashions
    change. (I can think of the words but I won't mention them). There may be less racism and sexism
    about generally now but I think that's because people have become more enlightened/better
    educated/integrated, etc, not because the language has changed.

    ~PB
     
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