Car crashes caused by drunk driving are often referred to as ‘accidents’. But is that the appropriate word to use? If a driver gets behind the wheel of a car and gets into a crash while committing a DWI (driving while intoxicated), was the incident an accident? There is currently a movement of people who adamantly argue that car crashes caused by human error, such a drunk driving, are not in fact accidents and should not be labeled as such.
According to the New York Times, roadway fatalities are higher than they have been in 50 years and that the most common cause of traffic incidents is human error. ‘Human error’ can include everything from drunk driving to distracted driving and other risky behavior behind the wheel. Almost all crashes are caused by human error while only about 6 percent are caused by other factors such as mechanical malfunctions or the weather.
Safety advocates across the country are increasingly joining the movement that urges society to stop using the word accident to describe car crashes caused by human error. These campaigns claim that labeling car incidents caused by human error as accidents makes it sound like God caused the collision and fosters apathy towards the issue. Semantics may seem trivial, however, promoters of the campaign argue that changing the language surrounding the issue will shake legislators into implementing changes so that more fault is assigned in auto collisions caused by human error. The campaign urges policymakers to remove the word ‘accident’ from their state laws and replace it with a word that can imply fault such as ‘crash’.
New York’s Vision Zero Plan
In 2014, New York City adopted the Vision Zero action plan with the aim of reducing auto fatalities within the city. One important component of the plan is the requirement that the city no longer refer to traffic crashes as accidents. The main message of Vision Zero is that automobile crashes caused by drunk driving, failing to use seatbelts, and other avoidable human errors are not inevitable and are not socially acceptable.
New York is not alone in adopting a plan to remove the word accident from their DWI laws. According to the New York Times at least 28 other states have also followed suit and have moved away from using the word accident to refer to car crashes.
DISCLAIMER: The exclusive purpose of this article is educational and it is not intended as either legal advice or a general solution to any specific legal problem.