Crash or 'accident'?



Status
Not open for further replies.
H

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
 
G

Geraint Jones

Guest
[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.
 
P

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-*** Seti 1330 wu in 9275 hours
 
M

Michael Macclan

Guest
"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?
 
T

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
 
R

Richard Burton

Guest
"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
 
T

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.
 
P

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, **** 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
 
A

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
 
D

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
 
M

Michael Macclan

Guest
"Paul - ***" <[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'.
 
T

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
 
M

Michael Macclan

Guest
"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.
 
A

Ambrose Nankive

Guest
"Paul - ***" <[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
 
H

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
 
T

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.
 
P

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
 
P

Paul - XXX

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

> "Paul - ***" <[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'.

********.

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-*** Seti 1330 wu in 9275 hours
 
P

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
 
Status
Not open for further replies.