You hear about car accidents, truck accidents, bicycle accidents and pedestrian accidents all the time. Not a day goes by where there isn’t a report of another pile-up on the road caused by an errant driver. But experts and safety advocates say that it’s time to stop referring to these events as “accidents” because they’re rarely (if ever) “accidental” at all.

The term “accident” implies that nothing could have been done to prevent the injuries or deaths that are caused. The reality is that almost every injury or death caused by a motor vehicle of any kind could be prevented:

  • A truck wreck may have been prevented by better maintenance on the vehicle, proper loading techniques or better driving.
  • A car wreck could have been avoided if the driver had been paying attention to the road, not their cellphone.
  • A multicar pileup might not have happened if drivers were observing the speed limit and following at a safe distance.
  • Pedestrian injuries and deaths could be vastly diminished by improvements to the infrastructure they use.

Language has been shown to subtly (or not-so-subtly) shape the reactions people have to certain events — even negative ones. When people (including news reports) refer to a wreck as “unfortunate,” “tragic” or “ill-fated” listeners don’t have the same reaction that they have when they hear words like “negligent,” or “reckless.” They may offer a sort of mental exoneration to the person who caused “an unfortunate accident” instead of demanding that drivers do better and victims be fairly compensated.

If you’ve been hurt in a wreck due to someone else’s mistakes, make sure that you have experienced representation on your side — and that the blame is put where it belongs.