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16 May 2023 | Comment | Article by Sandeep Gill

Language Matters: Crash not accident

As part of UN Global Road Safety Week, Sandeep Gill, Senior Associate in our Serious Injuries department, discusses the language used when describing a road traffic crash.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of an accident is an “unexpected event especially one causing damage.” However, to anyone involved in a road crash, in particular one that leads to life-changing injuries or death, the word “accident” can unintentionally cause offence.

The word “accident” suggests no-one is to blame for the crash and that the incident was unpreventable, beyond control. Yet, in reality, the majority of crashes are avoidable and could have been prevented. The word “accident” can be upsetting to families and serves to fuel the notion that road deaths (or injuries) are an acceptable price for having roads – which clearly should not be the case.

Further, the word “crash” does not presume guilt or liability. It avoids any judgement on the parties involved and is equally applicable when describing a collision with an animal that has run out into traffic and a driver being distracted by using their phone and colliding with another vehicle.

Consider a collision which results in one party being convicted and resulting in a custodial sentence. To be convicted for dangerous driving requires the standard of driving to fall far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver. For instance, by excessively exceeding the speed limit, deliberately running a red traffic light or using a vehicle with a dangerous defect. Whilst in the above examples there may be no intent to cause a crash, calling them “accidents” seems inappropriate.

Those who have tragically suffered a bereavement or serious injury by a law-breaking driver do not want to hear the incident described as an accident, especially when the same language is used to describe a milk spillage. Describing such an incident as an accident can cause deep offence.

As a result, charities such as RoadPeace and Brake are calling for the media and everybody else to use the word “crash” and help end the language of denial. Hugh James supports these charities in their call to end the use of the word “accident” when describing a road collision or crash. We would also call for support across the legal sector and judiciary to fully back this move.

In closing, it is perhaps helpful to refer to the Oxford English Dictionary once again, which defines a crash as “a violent collision” which in our view better describes the impact of a road traffic incident.

Hugh James specialises in supporting road users and their families after suffering life-changing injuries or fatal incidents. As a firm we support RoadPeace and Brake and are proud to be members of their legal panels. We offer legal advice to road users and their families following serious road traffic collisions throughout England and Wales.

if you would like to speak to one of our specialist serious injury solicitors, then please get in contact with us.

Author bio

Sandeep Gill


Sandeep is a Partner in our Serious Injury team, representing both adults and children who have suffered traumatic brain injuries, polytrauma and spinal injuries. In addition, Sandeep has extensive knowledge of handling fatal accident claims.

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