When car accidents happen in Virginia, the Department of Transportation puts a sign on the highway to warn motorists they are approaching the scene of a collision. The sign used to say "Accident ahead." According to Roanoke.com, most of the signs now read: "Crash ahead."
This update took effect on June 1, 2016. A spokesperson for VDOT stated the switch in wording was intentional and important. He said, "The idea is that 'crash' refers to a collision. There is nothing accidental about a collision, there is always a cause behind it. 'Accident' implies that something just happened." The signs that say "crash" provide a better description of what occurred, and the shift in language is part of a growing trend towards recognizing someone is at fault when collisions happen.
Why Crash Is a Better Description for Car Accidents
Virginia's decision to switch the to term "crash" instead of "accident" on all changeable signs is in accordance with best practices recommended by safety experts. New York Times indicated safety advocates across the country are campaigning to change the mentality surrounding car accidents. Federal, state, and local leaders, as well as grassroots activists, are all pushing to drop the use of the word "accident" to describe car crashes because the word "trivializes the single most common cause of traffic incidents: human error."
Almost all crashes happen not because of bad luck or chance, but because of human negligence or bad choices made by drivers. Only around six percent of wrecks happen due to weather or problems with vehicles, while the rest occur because of distracted driving, drunk driving, drowsy driving, speeding, and other high-risk activities. At a time when accident rates are rising dramatically for the first time in a long time, recognizing the conscious choices people make in causing collisions is of the utmost importance.
Language matters a lot in how people view things, and the use of the word "accident" is viewed by many experts as causing widespread apathy towards the risk of car accidents. When the term "accident" is used, it implies no one is at fault, and this makes drivers less likely to ensure they don't create danger.
Virginia's shift towards using the term "crash" means it is one of a long list of states recognizing the reality that crashes don't just happen. The Nevada legislature enacted a law which passed almost unanimously to replace crash in state law language, and New York also adopted a new policy in 2014 to stop referring to "crashes" as "accidents". At least 28 state transportation departments have also moved away from the word "accident".
Hopefully, this shift in attitude in Virginia and nationwide will increase driver awareness of the possibility their behaviors could cause crashes to happen.