For government agencies working to prevent traffic fatalities, part of the solution has become making sure the public knows they aren’t accidents.
Safety agencies and transportation departments have moved away from the term “accident,” instead calling it a crash or wreck.
“In our society, language can be everything,” Mark Rosekind, director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said during a May forum on driving while drowsy at the Harvard School of Public Health. “How we describe this — I’ll just tell you, in my agency, crash is not an accident. When you use the word ‘accident,’ it’s like God made it happen.”
Most wrecks are caused by human error and are preventable. Speeding, drinking and driving, texting, driver multitasking or not wearing a seat belt are all top causes of traffic fatalities.
The Kansas Department of Transportation, like its counterpart in Missouri, no longer uses the word “accident.”
“While not an official policy change, KDOT is slowly working with law enforcement, media and other safety advocates to begin this change in mindset,” spokesman Steve Swartz said.
Sgt. Bill Lowe of the Missouri Highway Patrol said the patrol moved away from the word “accident” in 2012 when it changed the name of its accident report to a crash report.
The heightened attention to terminology comes as the U.S. saw deadly wrecks increase to about 38,000 in 2015, up 8 percent from the year before.
In Missouri, 869 people died in wrecks in 2015, a 13 percent increase. But in Kansas, traffic fatalities decreased 6 percent to 361 deaths.
Ken Kolosh, statistics manager for the National Safety Council, said one of the biggest causes for the increase nationally is a stronger economy.
“Every time you see a recession, you see a decrease in motor vehicle deaths,” he said.
When the country is in an economic downturn, not only do people drive less because of higher gas prices, they also drive slower to use less gas. Also, insurance data indicate that the number of teen drivers — among those most vulnerable to crashes — declines in a recession, Kolosh said.
He estimated that 10,000 crash-related deaths were prevented during the recent recession because of economic conditions.