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A look inside one newspaper’s thinking on crashes, accidents and collisions

Posted by on March 31st, 2016 at 9:39 am

fatal accident angle coverage of a fatal collision this month.

“Accident”? “Crash”? “Collision”?

The Oregonian’s director of news says the newspaper’s unofficial practice has been, for years, to avoid “accident” in the absence of information because that word suggests that a traffic incident was unpreventable.

But the copy desk chief says the opposite: his preference is to go with “accident” in the absence of information because he feels “crash” and “collision” are favored by “activists” and the newspaper needs to remain neutral.

Reporters, meanwhile, don’t seem to be sure what to do. Last week, a business reporter was taking her turn on a weekend cops shift when an allegedly drunk driver killed a 17-year-old; her report described this as a “bike accident.” After a local lawyer emailed her to suggest different phrasing, she first described the word choice as “fine” based on the advice of one editor, then later apologized based on the advice of a different editor.

This week, a different reporter initially used “accident” after a different allegedly drunk driver who had been driving the wrong way on McLoughlin Boulevard at 1:30 a.m. turned around and collided her car with another man’s, sending him to the hospital. After another email from the lawyer, Scott Kocher, the second reporter agreed to change to “crash.”

“A lot of times when you’re talking about transportation collisions, there’s elements that are preventable.”
— Therese Bottomly, The Oregonian

After hearing from Kocher about these exchanges, we decided to try to get clarification on The Oregonian’s policy. That wasn’t easy, though. Asked who runs the newspaper’s copy desk (the traditional decision-maker on style issues) the paper’s transportation reporter said he wasn’t sure.

Our first stop was Therese Bottomly, the longtime managing editor of The Oregonian/OregonLive and a former copy editor herself.

“We typically try to avoid ‘accident,'” Bottomly, whose current title is director of news, said in an interview Thursday. “‘Accident’ to me, you could interpret it as being entirely unpreventable. And a lot of times when you’re talking about transportation collisions, there’s elements that are preventable.”

“That’s just been our practice for as long as I can remember,” she said. But Bottomly said different word choices sometimes fall through the cracks because the use of “collision” or “crash” is only a practice, not an official rule at the paper as spelled out by its stylebook.

“I don’t think it’s actually in our Oregonian stylebook,” Bottomly said. “That’s something that the copy desk keeps.”

Bottomly said the newspaper has a style committee that has “officially ruled on hundreds of things,” but she wasn’t sure who sits on it these days.


On Monday, I got ahold of Jake Arnold, production leader at The Oregonian/OregonLive and the de facto copy desk chief. He told me the same thing Bottomly had: the Associated Press style guide offers no guidance on the question, and The Oregonian’s internal stylebook doesn’t either.

“Our general feeling is we try to use the most descriptive words possible,” Arnold said. “Often ‘crash’ can be a more descriptive word than ‘accident.’ … ‘Crash’ is also a more value-loaded word. Generally ‘the accident’ implies no fault.”

“The two words would have been interchangeable 20 years ago. Now lawyers have decided that this means that and that means that. To some it does, to others it doesn’t.”
— Jake Arnold, The Oregonian

Arnold said that because the newspaper can’t be sure who was at fault in an incident, “we lean toward ‘accident.'”

I asked why the newspaper would want to presume that there was no fault if it does not yet know whether there was no fault.

“An accident is something that happened, and it can either mean no fault or it can mean we don’t know who’s at fault,” Arnold said. “Crash has more of a presumption of someone is to blame. … As a newspaper we are not in the practice of laying blame.”

“Language is evolving,” Arnold continued. “The two words would have been interchangeable 20 years ago. Now lawyers have decided that this means that and that means that. To some it does, to others it doesn’t.”

I asked about Bottomly’s notion that “accident” suggests that there was nothing someone could have done to prevent a collision. “That tends to be a more activist view of the meaning of the word ‘accident,’ Arnold said. “I don’t think the general population lays much meaning on the word.”

Ultimately, Arnold said, different Oregonian employees will differ on precisely what words mean.

“It’s why we put things in the style guide,” he said. “Therese has a background as a copy editor, and so it would not surprise me at all if that is part of her foundation of understanding and that she has instructed her reporters to act accordingly. The fact of the matter is that by the time it gets to the copy desk we don’t have a strong feeling one way or the other. If the reporter types ‘accident,’ we probably go with ‘accident,’ and if the reporter types ‘crash,’ we probably go with ‘crash.'”

So what’s the process for putting something in a style guide?

“Generally some sort of issue gets raised, somebody says, ‘we have a question on this,'” Arnold said. “We kick it around the copy desk. talk to reporters, talk to experts.”

Under the paper’s traditional process, that would have led to a discussion and vote by a style committee of four to seven people. But years of staff cutbacks had made the committee defunct, he said.

“Really it’s just me monitoring it,” he said.

Read more stories in our Language Matters column archives.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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    Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 31, 2016 at 9:47 am

    Few things I took away from this article:

    – Interesting how when you don’t personally feel empathy for a word sensitivity issue it’s easy to say, “It’s just an activist” thing. And then there’s the “general population” which you say agrees with you. This is classic framing IMO to discount the concerns/needs of the “them” (ppl who want safer streets aka “activists”) because you align your emotions more closely with the “us” (ppl who have so much transportation privilege this topic isn’t worthy of their attention).

    – I’ve thought about this topic a LOT for many many years and I don’t think there’s any defensible position for anyone in the journalism field to use “accident” when reporting on standard traffic crashes and collisions. Yes, there are times this might be up for debate – like when that poor woman died when a tree fell on her car while driving on Highway 224 in Estacada last month. But even then, I could look at that and say, “Well, driving is inherently dangerous, so…” So in that case, and in any case, journalists have the opportunity to simply avoid using “accident” or “crash” or “collision”. Get creative! I’ve published thousands and thousands of articles on a bike blog for many years without using the word “cyclist” “bicyclist” “motorist” or “pedestrian.” Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

    – I do not understand how Arnold can think that “crash” means someone is to blame. That must be his personal perspective coming in… And I sincerely hope if he’s the sole person who can change this practice at the Oregonian that he takes it upon himself to do so.

    – Vision Zero experts make it clear that to improve road safety we must focus more on the system (not individual actors) as the cause of crashes. I agree with that and it’s why focusing on individual behaviors as a scapegoat for an uptick in crashes is so wrongheaded. When you use “accident,” you absolve the system from any wrongdoing – which is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) March 31, 2016 at 10:13 am

      I agree with all this — and yet Arnold’s not wrong that the Oregonian’s goal is to remain neutral. Of course there’s no such thing, but some words are more neutral than others. Aspiring to neutrality is a legitimate goal, especially when reporting early facts.

      I think activists (a word that accurately describes Kocher and, at this point, me) will be unsuccessful in getting style to change until they focus their argument not around “traffic fatalities are bad and responsible newspapers should stigmatize them” but rather around “it is factually inaccurate to presume, without knowledge, that there were no meaningful choices that led to a collision.”

      By the way, it was a rare experience to actually be able to call up various people in an organization and get information about how they do their jobs. If other institutions operated with that sort of transparency, they’d be a lot more responsive to public input.

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        John Lascurettes March 31, 2016 at 10:58 am

        Adroitly said, Michael.

        Arnold said. “Often ‘crash’ can be a more descriptive word than ‘accident.’ … ‘Crash’ is also a more value-loaded word. Generally ‘the accident’ implies no fault.”

        This seems so bass ackwards to me. The only time “accident” should be used is when either it’s a “freak accident” like the tree incident Jonathan brings up, or when it it has been determined that there was no fault in the parties involved nor in the civil design of the environment.

        “Crash” and “collision” are exactly that. They describe the impact. There is no fault implied in those words, they are simply factually descriptive nouns. “Accident” has the meaning of no fault. Or at the very least, “accident” probably means to most people, the person at fault had no intention of causing harm. That still does not excuse the fault and this is the problem that activists have with the word.

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          Eric Leifsdad March 31, 2016 at 12:08 pm

          Even the freak occurrence of a tree falling on a moving car might have been preventable. Was the tree checked yearly by an arborist? Was poor drainage or erosion involved? Was speed a factor? You could say something was accidental, but I think it’s very rare that we could truly say a road death was not preventable. The dismissive use of the word “accident” to absolve drivers, design, and law enforcement just says that person’s life wasn’t worth the extra effort. I guess “activists” are people who think we could take a little more care and it would be worthwhile (now as for the dismissive use of the term “activist”…)

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            Dan A March 31, 2016 at 1:12 pm

            I’m not sure I’ve earned the title activist just because I want our roads to be safe.

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              JeffS April 1, 2016 at 9:33 am

              In the conservative lexicon, an activist is anyone who disagrees with you.

              The AAA is an activist group, but I doubt Mr Arnold would describe them as such.

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        Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 31, 2016 at 11:33 am

        thanks for bringing that up michael. I absolutely agree that the way to get journalists to adopt and understand this change is by appealing to their sense of accuracy and good journalism practices — not by telling them about vision zero!

        So everyone.. if you do write to your local paper to tell them about this issue, please don’t go on a long rant about traffic safety and vision zero and how important you think it is.. Just tell them using “accident” is simply inaccurate and sloppy.

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        HaroldorMaude March 31, 2016 at 12:36 pm

        The state (ODOT) calls a crash a crash. No fault/blame/intent is assumed or implied in their official Statewide Crash Data System database that comes from police reports.

        Given our government calls a crash a crash it should be considered to be as official, standard, and neutral as it gets.


        While the vast majority of crashes are unintentional and can therefore be considered “accidents” it is inherently presumptive to use this language. It is presumptive to say “Child dies in accident” just as it is presumptive to say “Driver kills child”. Either may or may not be true, so it’s more professional to stick to the facts and say “Child killed in crash”.

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      • Scott Kocher
        Scott Kocher March 31, 2016 at 8:05 pm

        I prefer “advocate,” please.

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      Gary B March 31, 2016 at 12:25 pm

      No reasonable person could say that collision is “value-loaded” and accident is not. That’s just non-sensical. That a collision occurred is 100% objective. Whether it was an accident is a subjective question. If common sense doesn’t already prove this, we know this because we use juries to decide intent and negligence because they are questions of fact.

      It’s pathetic that someone makes their living editing words and can’t see how obvious this is.

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    axoplasm March 31, 2016 at 9:54 am

    Can we hang up this notion that somehow language can be “neutral?” Words mean things, and those things have agendas. If you’re trying to find meaningless words, maybe you’re in the wrong business.

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      PNP March 31, 2016 at 10:00 am

      There’s a difference between a word being neutral and being meaningless. “Collision” is about as neutral a word as I can think of in this context, but it’s certainly not meaningless.

      I think reporting needs to try for neutrality in the absence of known facts. Consider the conversation here yesterday about the “pedestrian problem.” Language is squishy stuff, which is one of the reasons that I love it, but I’m happy to see people paying attention and trying to improve.

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        Pete March 31, 2016 at 11:40 am

        “Language is squishy stuff…”

        Exactly, and it also changes with time (and region). In my youth the word “negro” was perfectly acceptable for a white person to say, as was “black”. (Of course, context matters, but for the sake of my point let’s assume there was neutral context in the discussions). When I moved to the west coast from Boston there were times I got chastised for using the word “black” in a casual conversation – which was ironic as I was dating a woman from Haiti at the time. More than once I was corrected and told “African-American” is the proper term, which gave me a chuckle because she absolutely abhorred being called that.

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          Spiffy March 31, 2016 at 11:48 am

          and now black is the preferred term as African-American is considered insensitive to the heritage…

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    PNP March 31, 2016 at 9:56 am

    Language definitely matters. I agree that the word “crash” is a somewhat loaded term and that just about everyone reads “accident” without much thought. I’d say that using “collision” is the best choice. It’s descriptive without any connotations of fault (or the lack of fault).

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      rachel b March 31, 2016 at 5:35 pm

      Yes–the words we use are very telling! The O may feel they’re maintaining neutrality, but it’s clear from their response to Jonathan that their choice of ‘neutral’ word is not in the least neutral. I think we all lie to ourselves about language.

      In addition to doing away with “accident” in most contexts, I vote for getting rid of “domestic violence” and “content” (the most insulting, minimizing catch-all word for art, music, writing, etc. I can imagine, barf).

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    gneiss March 31, 2016 at 9:57 am

    The fact that ‘crash’ is a value loaded term that means someone was at fault is exactly the point. When we say ‘accident’ the implication is that human agency isn’t involved and that it was somehow unavoidable. That this would have happened even if everyone involved acted appropriately. By changing the word to ‘crash’ the implication is that a person messed up.

    People hate getting blamed for something. Particularly so called “Professionals” who are licensed to drive and build stuff. But until we stop thinking of traffic crashes as unavoidable and start looking at them as a result of human decisions, they will continue to happen. Occupational injuries were called ‘accidents’ for many years until OSHA started studying them and understanding how they could be avoided. We need to start getting better at doing the same for our roadways.

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      axoplasm March 31, 2016 at 10:01 am

      When I took flying lessons in the 80s I was told “there is no such thing as an aviation accident.” We focused on a “chain of failure” — a string of decisions (design, mechanical, maintenance, air control, pilot error) that lead to a crash.

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    bikeninja March 31, 2016 at 10:07 am

    How about: ” Climate Criminal Runs Down Citizen in Gas Guzzling Death Machine.” A bit harsh, yes. But the way that society made progress against smoking was to change the image and narrative away from smoking being cool and sophisticated to dirty and unhealthful. In the same way if we are too make any progress in saving the planet from the scourge of climate change and prevent the deaths of innocents in the public right of way we must change the image of the autombile from one of freedom, glamour, fun and americana to danger, pollution, and self centeredness .

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    AJ_Bikes March 31, 2016 at 10:23 am

    Jake Arnold’s wrong-headed opinion has proven the correctness of my decision to never give a dime to that dirt rag known as “the Oregonian”. I feel like my money is significantly better spent supporting BikePortland, where at least Michael and Jonathan seem to be trying to move the conversation in the right direction and make our city into a safer, better place.

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      Robert Burchett April 1, 2016 at 10:05 am

      I agree with the sense of your comment but you’re giving the actual ‘dirt rag’ a bad name! It’s a nice little magazine.

      Like the classic bumpersticker: “If it’s important to Oregonians it’s in the ‘Washington Post'”

      And also: “‘Oregonian’ Comes Out as Tabloid”

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    KristenT March 31, 2016 at 10:30 am

    To me, “crash” and “collision” imply exactly what the words mean: something crashed or collided with something else. “Accident” to me means something like a meteorite falling out the sky, or a sinkhole opening up in a formerly stable area.

    “Incident” is a very bland and dismissive term that could be used, but it sort of gives the impression that the thing that happened was insignificant.

    Crash and Collision to me don’t imply fault one way or the other, but Accident puts the blame sometimes unfairly where it doesn’t belong, or absolves the instigators unfairly.

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    paikiala March 31, 2016 at 10:43 am

    “…As a newspaper we are not in the practice of laying blame.”


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    m March 31, 2016 at 10:53 am

    Probably in the minority on this one on this site, but “accident” to me means something happened unintentionally. I agree that a collision between 2 cars, a car and a bike, or whatever, should not automatically be called an ‘accident’ but if after an investigation it is reasonably determined it was not done intentionally, then it is an accident. But just because it is an accident, that does not mean there is no fault. That then gets into the degree on negligence on the part of the driver (or other party). If the driver is looking at their phone (not paying attention), they are acting negligently and should be held responsible. But it is still an accident. A driver intentionally hurting someone is very rare – that is why I think there is a casual use of the term accident.

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      Gary B March 31, 2016 at 12:21 pm

      “if after an investigation it is reasonably determined it was not done intentionally, then it is an accident”

      When *what* was done intentionally? Intent in legal terms is an enormously complex subject. Different crimes and civil actions require intent at various points and in various degrees. It’s a spectrum. Let’s give simplified hypotheticals….

      a) Driver intentionally drives their car into a person.
      b) Driver intentionally drives their car in excess of the speed limit. Their speed contributes to them to hitting a person.
      c) Driver intentionally drives their car, but is negligent in controlling their speed. They end up driving too fast and it contributes to them hitting a person.
      d) Driver intentionally drives their car, but exercises due care in controlling their speed. Regardless, they hit a person.

      Different people might have a different level of intent in mind when they say accident. All should agree a) is not an accident, and most people would say d) is an accident. I think many of the commenters here view b) as non-accident, and a lot would say so of c). But, in fact, there are crimes and civil actions that would say d) is sufficient intent to hold someone liable (it’s “strict liability”).

      This is all to illustrate why “accident” is, by definition, a value-loaded term–because the requisite level of intent to deem something not an accident is a value judgment. It’s a value judgment that becomes a legal standard by way of legislatures and judges. But, no matter what, there was intent that led to the consequences.

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        m March 31, 2016 at 1:48 pm

        Nice try but if you break out a dictionary……

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      Jason 2 March 31, 2016 at 8:21 pm

      You nailed it exactly. This is not difficult folks.

      Gary B,
      Your case a is some kind of attempted murder, manslaughter, battery, etc. Cases b, c, and d are accidents – there is no room for discussion – accident means they did not hit the person on purpose – whether they were drunk, texting, etc does not change that fact.

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    Matthew B March 31, 2016 at 11:39 am

    News media, including the Oregonian, shape the way English has developed as a language. As commercial organizations they get pressure, sometimes subtle, sometimes explicit, from their advertising clients, to phrase things in certain ways. Before tobacco advertising was banned in print and electronic media, media reporting of the ills of tobacco was muted at best. Advertising dollars from automotive and fuel manufacturers are important sources of revenue for many media organizations. Naturally they don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them – it doesn’t usually require the media relations director of Ford/GM/Chrysler/Chevron/Shell/BP etc. to get media outlets to tone down their reporting.

    So, media outlets report traffic collisions/crashes as “accidents” because it doesn’t reflect as badly on their advertisers. Sometimes it takes a powerful organization to step in. In Australia some years ago, the Australian Transportation Safety Bureau (its version of the NTSB) made a concerted effort to lobby media outlets to stop referring to traffic collisions as accidents – precisely because the federal and state governments were trying to cut the carnage. The effort was only partly successful. However, as the Australian Federal and State governments, through their universal healthcare plan and compulsory third party insurance (policies that cover injuries to victims of collisions) are primarily responsible for healing the injured, they have a vested interest in getting the carnage down to zero.

    Negligent driving/riding (including distracted driving/riding, DWI etc.) is responsible for most road injuries and deaths. Negligent driving/riding is avoided by developing safe habits over the course of your entire driving/riding career.

    I think that the lawyers that contacted Oregonian to change wording were trying to prevent the Oregonian polluting the jury pool by creating a pervasive attitude that road deaths and injuries are part of the sh!t that happens in life, like getting the flu. Getting hit by a drunk driver/cyclist while you are crossing a pedestrian crossing with a green signal, is not like catching the flu.

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    Spiffy March 31, 2016 at 11:42 am


    noun: accident; plural noun: accidents
    1. an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.
    “he had an accident at the factory”
    synonyms: mishap, misadventure, unfortunate incident, mischance, misfortune, disaster, tragedy, catastrophe, calamity; technical: casualty
    “an accident at work”

    * a crash involving road or other vehicles, typically one that causes serious damage or injury.
    “four people were killed in a car accident”
    synonyms: crash, collision, smash, bump, car crash; wreck; informalsmash-up, pileup, fender bender
    “she was injured in a highway accident”

    * informal: used euphemistically to refer to an incidence of incontinence, typically by a child or an animal.

    2. an event that happens by chance or that is without apparent or deliberate cause.
    “the pregnancy was an accident”
    synonyms: (mere) chance, coincidence, twist of fate, freak; fluke, bit of luck, serendipity; fate, fortuity, fortune, providence, happenstance

    * the working of fortune; chance.
    “my faith is an accident of birth, not a matter of principled commitment”


    noun: crash; plural noun: crashes
    1. a violent collision, typically of one vehicle with another or with an obstacle.
    “a car crash”
    synonyms: accident, collision, road traffic accident, derailment, wreck; informalpileup, smash-up, rear-ender
    “a crash on the highway”

    * an instance of an aircraft falling from the sky to hit the land or sea.

    2. a sudden loud noise as of something breaking or hitting another object.
    “he slammed the phone down with a crash”
    synonyms: bang, smash, smack, crack, bump, thud, clatter, clunk, clang; report, detonation, explosion; noise, racket, clangor, din
    “a loud crash”

    3. a sudden disastrous drop in the value or price of something, especially shares of stock.
    “a stock market crash”

    * the sudden collapse of a business.
    synonyms: collapse, failure, bankruptcy
    “the stock market crash”

    4. COMPUTING: a sudden failure which puts a system out of action.

    I think that when people hear “accident” they think of a combination of definitions such as that it was an unfortunate car crash that nobody expected to happen or directly meant to cause and that it was just chance that it happened at all…

    I also believe that when people hear “crash” they think of two or more things colliding together loudly without connecting the term to people, intent, or statistics…

    those connections should only come later when the people have other data to make their own connections…

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    Evan Manvel March 31, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration hasn’t used the term “accident” for 20 years.

    When they first made the change, they wrote:

    Changing the way we think about events, and the words we use to describe them, affects the way we behave. Motor vehicle crashes and injuries are predictable, preventable events. Continued use of the word “accident” promotes the concept that these events are outside of human influence or control. In fact, they are predictable results of specific actions.

    Whereas, use of the word “accident” works against bringing the appropriate resources to bear on this enormous problem.

    And in 2003, there was a great article in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, where the authors wrote:

    We assert that motor vehicle crash should replace motor vehicle accident in the clinical and research lexicon of traumatologists. Crash encompasses a wider range of potential causes for vehicular crashes than does the term accident. A majority of fatal crashes are caused by intoxicated, speeding, distracted, or careless drivers and, therefore, are not accidents. Most importantly, characterizing crashes as accidents, when a driver was intoxicated or negligent, may impede the recovery of crash victims by preventing them from assigning blame and working through the emotions related to their trauma.

    Accident implies a lack of fault, ‘an event occurring by chance or arising from unknown causes; lack of intention or necessity.’ (Merriam-Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary). Here, an accident means that a drive was not responsible, negligible, or at fault in causing a crash.

    **The important distinction between these terms is that crash describes the event without implying the presence or lack of drivers’ responsibilities. Crash simply describes the event, whereas accident confounds, often erroneously, what happened with the lack of intentionality or legal responsibility of the driver.**

    Anyone who really wants to get into the deep weeds on this can read a wonky British book, whose name I forget, but looks at a few hundred years of how the term “accident” has been used throughout society. It reminded me the term was used by management in the late 1800s to excuse factory “accidents” (deaths and injuries) and labor unions had to fight to reframe the debate to build safer workplaces. Another point was “accidents” have been used over the years by the medical profession as a catch-all for unknown cause of deaths, but nosology has slowly tightened the category as more and more causes of death become apparent.

    So, if *The Oregonian* wants to perpetuate the idea that traffic crashes are things we can’t do anything about, they should keep calling them accidents. And maybe move onto calling lung cancer from cigarettes an accident, because, hey, no one meant it and only the activists want to rename it.

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    Stephen Keller March 31, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    Collision seems most neutral of all. “Crash” implies violence and “accident” an absence of intent, expectation or foresight. The word “accident” comes from a similar latin word that suggests the quality of being non-essential, that is not intrinsic. When applied to an event or occurrence, accident would suggest that the particular circumstances are not part of the normal or anticipated flow.


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    Steve B. March 31, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    For those of us who’ve been working on this sort of style change in our local media outlets for years, this is a very intriguing look inside the workings of the Oregonian. Kudos, Michael.

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  • TonyT
    TonyT March 31, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    “Crash” is value-loaded? And “accident” which leans toward absolving of fault, is more neutral? Wow. I am completely bewildered by that logic.

    And by the way, a word being favored by “activists” in no way a point against using that word. It might be that the activist favored word does a BETTER job of conveying the truth than the historically biased term.

    Other words favored by “activists” include: survivor (not victim), mental illness & PTSD (not crazy), abuse (not inappropriate touching). The list goes on. He’s got to come up with an actual argument.

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      q`Tzal March 31, 2016 at 2:23 pm

      Let ‘im mansplain it to us because we are obviously too close to the problem to honestly explain it.

      I’m sure he feels that the only honest journalism can come from callous ignorance.

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    q`Tzal March 31, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    As a journalist your words are your sword; you need to watch where you swing it.

    In choosing “accident” in place of “collision” or “crash” you are doing a few things erroneously:
    () all vehicular “accidents” are “collisions” or “crashes” but the reverse is not always true. If you as a journalist want to claim neutral objectivity then DO NOT embellish the facts “a crash occurred” by assuming that you can accurately know the state of mind of the driver or their culpability. You as the neutral journalist are not in the business of assigning blame nor permanently absolving the guilty. Report the FACTS.
    () in choosing the word “accident” you are permanently affixing “innocence” to a vehicle operator that may or may NOT be innocent. You are not the judge; report known facts only.

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    Jim Lee March 31, 2016 at 2:42 pm


    Which “experts?”

    There are 70 people in 3 groups working on “Vision Zero” for PBOT:

    13 on the “Executive Committee.”

    25 on the “Task Force.”

    32 on the “Technical Support Group.”

    Novick and Bailey are among the 13. Having heard them on the campaign trail for 2 months I surely rule them out as “expert.”

    Noel Mickleberry is among the 25. Based on her BP essay using “VZ” as a placeholder for fervent social proclamations, scratch Noel.

    There are 17 PBOT employees among the 32. PBOT, an engineering organization, although administered by a lawyer and a political scientist, certainly must have a few expert engineers if anything is to be accomplished. I hope so, but fear the worst.

    I have investigated this personally, calling 10 people, several from each group. 7 gave me robo “…leave a message…” responses, the best of which was a visceral plea to be left alone. Bob Stacey of Metro is among the 13, and a very accommodating assistant actually spoke with me, admittedly not knowing what he was doing at “VZ,” except that he certainly was not representing Metro, because Tom Hughes, Metro’s President, had approved no such thing. An assistant to Judge Steve Todd also was very polite, but left the definite impression that the Judge’s schedule was so jammed that “VZ” was a backwater.

    The person from AARP (disclaimer: I am an AARP member) likely is not expert on traffic issues, although the one from AAA might be. (I do not own a car; I do not belong to AAA.) Perhaps you could see if she is.

    One member spoke to me at length, off the record, and gave me an earful. PBOT’s “Vision Zero” is a hopeless waste of the valuable time of many gainfully employed people. Nothing is being accomplished. The meetings are a joke. It is a top-down organization that suppresses whatever ideas arise from below. And so on…

    I submit that I spoke to an expert. But it was off the record. Perhaps you can figure out who it was.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) March 31, 2016 at 5:40 pm

      Metro has actually approved a Vision Zero policy. I assume Hughes voted for it.

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      Kristi Finney March 31, 2016 at 6:13 pm

      The VZ Task Force meetings are open to the public. Anyone can sit in on the next one and see if it is a waste of time. I’m “not an expert” myself, but I know what it feels like to lose my child in a preventable crash and I most certainly do not think VZ is a waste of time. I DO agree that a couple members of the task force appear less invested than others.

      Maybe I’m naive, maybe I’m just hopeful because the alternative is to lay in bed and feel like dying every time I hear of a new tragedy. I’m just a bereaved mom without a transportation background of any sort, no police dealings, and I work for the government myself and know how much I care about others. It feels to me as an individual who IS involved, that those behind Vision Zero locally DO care, ARE thoughtful, and ARE committed.

      Frankly, I’m tired of so many people’s negative comments and what seems to be a deliberate push to prove that this isn’t going to work either. Please attend a VZ meeting and tell us personally how we’re not doing anything meaningful, we really don’t care, and it’s all just a waste of time. Or maybe be persuaded just the opposite, even if just a little.

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      Steve Todd April 13, 2016 at 8:41 pm

      Interesting discussion. I lean toward “crash” over “accident”. I also use the word “collision”. Regardless of “fault”, if we can prevent or reduce crashes, we should do that, not accept them as “accidents”. I’m hard to reach by phone; sorry you didn’t get through. If you can send me your phone number, I can usually call you back.

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    Todd Boulanger March 31, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    In my experience as a expert witness (and observer) the lack of public education by the press [and police] on this terminology choice severely influences juries to err on the side of motor vehicle operators when vulnerable users are injured and especially if they are killed (unable to testify or provide their opinion as to the incident). This is unless the driver was doing something very stupid or overt aggression.

    Accidents = no way to avoid event.

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    Adam March 31, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    Great story guys. Words matter. Keep it up.

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    still riding after all that March 31, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    >> …drunk driver killed a 17-year-old; her
    >> report described this as a “bike accident.”

    Not accident, not crash, not collision – this is MURDER in the 2nd degree. The drinking was intentional, getting behind the wheel after drinking was intentional, and a subsequent collision-resulting-in-death was entirely foreseeable. The only part that’s hard to predict is whether the drunk driver will crash into someone that night or some other night, and who will be killed or maimed as a result.

    Note the “death caused by a reckless disregard for human life” clause:

    This problem isn’t going to be fixed until we start calling it what it is and punishing the offenders appropriately.

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  • Scott Kocher
    Scott Kocher March 31, 2016 at 8:10 pm

    This isn’t a defense of the O but just to point how pervasive this is… Between the time I wrote the O and this BP post VeloNews, CyclingNews and BBC all reported on obviously preventable cycling fatalities as “accidents.” VN quickly wrote back and corrected their copy. Nothing from CN. BBC’s “contact us” maze was impossible to navigate.

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    Jason 2 March 31, 2016 at 8:14 pm

    Worrying about whether to refer to collisions as accidents or crashes or whatever is ludicrous.

    By definition, accident means the collision was not intentional. Thus almost all collisions are accidents. All accidents likely can be broken down into who is at fault – in most of them, all parties will share at least some of the blame.

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      Dan A April 5, 2016 at 8:37 am

      “in most of them, all parties will share at least some of the blame”

      This was false the last time someone stated that here, and is still false.

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      El Biciclero April 5, 2016 at 12:06 pm

      Why don’t we have “plane accidents” or “train accidents”? They are always plane crashes or train wrecks or something more descriptive, such as a “derailment” or whatever.

      I think it’s like that because we have very high expectations of pilots and train operators, such that when something happens, we assume human error, and even though it’s more than likely not intentional, it’s still a “crash”, not “oopies, I had an accident”.

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  • Scott Kocher
    Scott Kocher March 31, 2016 at 8:28 pm

    And whatever you do don’t read my firm’s web site, or those of many of my colleagues around town, so it would appear. Something about a plank and a mote. Any good web designers out there?

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    David Feldman April 1, 2016 at 8:10 am

    Look, unless you’ve been under a rock for the last fifty years you have to realize that the Big O is nakedly, unapologetically pro-car in almost all of its coverage of transportation. Is anybody surprised by this crap at all?

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    Dan A April 1, 2016 at 9:55 am

    The Tribune does a better job at this. It’s been a while since I’ve seen them call a crash an accident. Note this recent story:

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    GlowBoy April 1, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    “Accident” implies some level of preventability, and the other two words are factual descriptions of a physical event. Period.

    To say otherwise is flat out incorrect, but this faulty understanding of basic English is unfortunately consistent with what I read in newspapers every single day.

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    Jake Arnold April 1, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    An interesting discussion and some strong points in favor of the use of crash. Honestly, I had not given the issue much thought before Mr. Andersen contacted me. As with most evolving language debates, I will have to do some more investigation. As someone pointed out, the appearance of bias tends to depend on your point of view, but we try to be fair.

    And in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been a bike commuter off and on for more than 20 years, including a year I lived in Anchorage with no car.

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    Adam April 3, 2016 at 11:24 am

    Got an update from the AP Stylebook today:

    accident, crash
    Generally acceptable for automobile and other collisions and wrecks. However, when negligence is claimed or proven, avoid accident, which can be read by some as a term exonerating the person responsible. In such cases, use crash, collision or other terms. See collide, collision. (new entry)

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      Dan A April 3, 2016 at 6:56 pm

      There is almost always negligence of some sort. Safer to use ‘crash’ instead of ‘accident’.

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