Is there a difference between the words ‘crash’ versus ‘accident’?

Car Accidents

When it comes to the correct usage of a word in legal documents, precision is of the utmost importance. For using a word in the wrong way, could have a major impact on the outcome of a case. On the other hand, using some words might have less of an impact in the minds of others; including jurors and insurance adjusters. One of these words is accident versus crash.

Various automotive safety groups in the U.S., as well as state and federal officials, are discussing the effect that words can have on a driver’s behavior. Many are calling for the need for some language to be changed. One example of this is to change the word ‘accident’ to ‘crash’. This is why.

Accident Versus Crash

Language shapes our reality and perceptions. If one word tends to downplay an issue, that issue might not be taken as seriously. Automotive safety groups are saying that is exactly what is happening with the word accident. Mark Rosekind, the head of  the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, was speaking at a conference held by the Harvard School of Public Health where he was quoted as saying When you use the word ‘accident, it’s like saying ‘God made it happen.” In other words using the word accident basically implies that it was truly an accident and no one is at fault, and that, as the saying goes, “accidents just happen”.

People who are supporting the change of words say that “crash” naturally causes people to think about a car colliding with another car or object.

In 2016, Nevada passed a law which changed the word accident to crash in numerous government documents, insurance reports, and police reports. Another 28 state departments have followed suit.

The director of highway safety for Massachusetts, Jeff Larason, is an advocate of the change and explains that “Not all crashes are ‘accidents,” he continues “Crimes are not ‘accidents.” He has started a massive media campaign that has spread throughout social media and has even gotten the Associated Press to use the word crash whenever negligence is a factor.

Opponents of the Change in Words

Not everyone is in agreeance with the word change. Critics argue that people are more familiar with the word accident, and even feel more comfortable in using it. Others believe that the word crash is too confusing and makes it difficult to say when a situation is a crash or accident.

Major Versus Minor Accidents

Media outlets who still use the word accident often use major or minor before it. In general a minor accident is one that little to no damage was caused and all occupants of the are were okay. Major accidents are those that involve serious injuries or loss of life. Vehicles involved in a major accident are usually damaged or totaled.  Insurance companies and government agencies generally do not classify an accident as being major or minor, rather it is an accident.

Which Term is Best?

The goal of vehicular safety groups is to reduce, or even stop, road fatalities. It is possible for the word crash to have a psychological impact on a person’s mind and encourage them to think about their safety in a different way. On the other hand, accident could provide a familiarity to people which is not worth changing. What this debate between word usage might do is raise awareness about negligence on the road and increase driver responsibility; something that everyone can benefit from. Finally, legally speaking, lawyers may use both terms interchangeably. Hiring a car accident lawyer Woodland Hills, CA trusts may be beneficial for the outcome of your case.



Thank you to our friends and contributors at Barry P. Goldberg for their insight into car accidents and crashes.