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“Car Accident” vs. “Car Crash”: Making the Case for At-fault Wording

January 5, 2016

During the Roaring ‘20s, as motor vehicles finally wrestled the roadways from the capable feet and hooves of pedestrians and horses once and for all, auto manufacturers were quick to recognize an implicit threat to their livelihood: car crashes. At the time, the only people on the road were first-generation drivers tightly grasping the wheels of new, temperamental machinery, meaning that car crashes happened often, with great violence, and with substantial casualties. To distance the gruesome nature of the result from the innocuous nature of the cause – negligent or nefarious – the phrases “car crash” and “car accident” suddenly became interchangeable. Within years, that interchangeability was discarded, and the scales tipped in favor of car “accident,” a term we still use today to alleviate the anxiety that accompanies the subtle threat of complete destruction. The question is whether our preference for one term over the other helps or hurts the situation.

“The more we use language to sugarcoat our terror of dying behind the wheel, the less action we’ll take to prevent automobile-related deaths.” Truer words could not be said. Katy Waldman wrote that line in an article she wrote for Slate examining the potentially lethal implications of euphemizing the terminology we use to describe motor vehicle collisions. Her words neatly expose our tendency to deny fault and avoid accountability, and they reinforce the thinking that car “accidents” lack a root cause, that they occur in a vacuum.

The fact is that very few car crashes are the result of mere accidents (events and/or circumstances beyond our control and thus without direct and explicit fault). An accident is when a child spills a glass of milk or an email is sent with a benign typo. Car crashes involve distinct lapses or errors in judgement. They are almost always the result of drunk driving, negligent driving, a failure to properly abide by established and marked driving statutes, and/or fundamental incompetence. Therefore, to refer to them as “accidents” rather than “crashes” absolves blame and shifts the attention away from the mistake and toward a random sequence of events. It’s easier to shrug your shoulders than accept responsibility.

That said, this blameless terminology has infiltrated our daily language and holds the belt as the undisputed phrasing of choice. “Car accident” has become so prevalent that using alternative wording (such as “car crash”) doesn’t sound right coming off the tongue and can look even more awkward when written on the page.

While language is constantly evolving, change usually comes gradually and without a conscious realization that anything was ever different than it is now. As it stands, “car accident” is the most commonly used and accepted phrase to describe all varieties of motor vehicle collisions, whether minor or significant, and this isn’t likely to change any time soon. So, we’re stuck with a bit of a misnomer for the time being, even though that misnomer gives validity to a distinct untruth: that a car accident isn’t really an accident at all – it is a car crash.

Yet, despite it being far less common, we at the Law Office of William D. Cook prefer to call these incidents what they really are: car crashes. In the overwhelming majority of car crashes, one or more drivers are at fault, and we are bound and determined to identify those responsible and to hold them accountable for their actions. We are more interested in discovering the truth than we are in pacifying the situation.

If you or someone you know has been involved in a car crash and are seeking legal representation to assist you in achieving a financial recovery, please contact the Law Office of William D. Cook at (907) 694-2000. Or, you can complete a brief online form, and we will be in touch shortly to discuss the particulars of your case. We offer free consultations and in most instances we handle cases on a contingent fee basis, which means we advance expenses and that you will not pay a dime until we are able to resolve your case.



Waldman, K. (2015, July 23). Activists want to replace ‘car accident’ with ‘car crash.’ Not so fast. Slate. Retrieved from



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