Smart transportation reform advocates know words matter. If we think of thousands of driving-related deaths and injuries as being the result of tragic “accidents”, we’ll never build the social urgency necessary to combat its root causes.
Despite years of activists pushing the “crash not accident” agenda, much of the media, pundit class, elected officials and other policymakers still say “accident.” Some say this issue is only something diehard activists care about.
Now those activists include a major driving advocacy group. In a press release issued on January 12th, the AAA-Auto Club Group said they will no longer use “accident” in their official communications. “In the New Year, save lives by changing how you talk about tragedies,” the statement urged.
Note that Auto Club Group (ACG) is not the same as the American Automobile Association (AAA). The AAA is a federation of auto clubs with 60 million members nationwide. ACG is one of those clubs, the second largest in the country, which counts 14 states and about 14 million drivers among its membership.
Even so, this is wonderful news.
In their statement, AAA-ACG says, “The language we use to think about and describe things affects the value judgments we make about acceptable behavior, and as a result, the way that we behave.”
When we call a crash, collision, or wreck an “accident,” we imply that these tragedies are inevitable, and that they’re beyond human influence or control… When it comes to traffic crashes, nothing could be further from the truth.Crashes aren’t accidents, and they don’t have to be an inevitable, acceptable fact of life.
In 2021, let’s change our language to reflect the fact that traffic crashes aren’t something that just happen. They’re something we control. They’re a problem we can solve. Accidents happen, but most crashes don’t have to.
When a plane crashes, we don’t call it an ’accident’ – in large part because we demand answers, and that it doesn’t happen again,” said Nick Jarmusz, director of public affairs for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “In 2021, let’s change our language to reflect the fact that car crashes aren’t something that just happen. They’re something we control. They’re a problem we can solve. Accidents happen, but most crashes don’t have to.”
Before posting about this, I spoke to Adrienne Woodland a spokesperson for AAA-The Auto Club Group in Michigan. She clarified that the statement was made available all 14 of their member states and other territories which include: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, most of Illinois and Minnesota, a portion of Indiana, and the province of Quebec.
Not all ACG chapters have adopted and broadcast the statement. We can confirm that it has been shared so far by Michigan, Colorado, Illinois and Wisconsin. And not every state shared the full statement. Some urged members to take the Crash Not Accident Pledge (a campaign created by New York City nonprofit Transportation Alternatives in 2015), others didn’t. And not everyone shared that part about plane crashes.
Our local chapter, AAA Oregon & Idaho has not released a similar pledge. We’ve reached to them and will report back what we hear.
They should. And not just because a fellow AAA club has taken the leap. Let’s not forget that even the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration stopped using “accident” in 1997. And several states and cities have erased “accident” from all policies and communications. And in 2016 the Associated Press got on board.
Hopefully this gets the ball rolling. It would be a major step forward if every state chapter in the U.S. would adopt this statement and make the “crash not accident” ethos an official part of their work.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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