You may have never given it much thought. But when is a collision involving one or more vehicles an accident, and when is it a crash? The Michigan Department of Transportation thinks it is an important enough distinction to produce a video to explain the differences. An example cited by the department is when a driver crashes because they were driving too fast for conditions,  even though they didn't intend to. Should we really call it an "accident"? That's just one example of why MDOT,  along with partners in law enforcement, emergency medical, and fire service agencies, is urging everyone to call traffic collisions "crashes" instead of accidents. A new video posted on MDOT's YouTube channel, as well as a new webpage:, explain why.

When a traffic crash is described as an "accident," it implies that no one bears responsibility for the outcome. It also leads to the belief there was nothing that could have been done to prevent it. But MDOT administrators believe most crashes result from distracted, drugged, or drunken drivers, or unsafe or illegal actions, such as driving too fast for wet or icy conditions and failing to stop for stop signs or signals.  Only a  small percentage vehicle collisions are the result of equipment failures, animals, or medical emergencies. Spl/Lt. Derrick Carroll is the public information officer for the Michigan State Police Seventh District. His colleagues in law enforcement have investigated many crashes in their careers and he confirms most stem from driver behavior. "An accident cannot be reasonably foreseen. A crash is the result of choices made and a disregard for safety," Carroll says. "That's why we in law enforcement call it a traffic crash and never an accident."

Emergency medical personnel, firefighters, and other first responders are changing how they talk about crashes. The word "accident" was used in the early 1900s by companies seeking to avoid liability for workers injured on the job. In the 1920s, automakers and insurers began using it as well in an effort to shift blame, but it has since come to be used as an equivalent term for "crash" to absolve drivers of responsibility.

While an Associated Press Stylebook (2016 revision) says "accident" and "crash" are generally acceptable descriptions for vehicle crashes, it does recommend journalists use "crash, collision, or other terms" and avoid using "accident" in auto crash reporting, particularly in cases when negligence is claimed or proven.


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