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Should We Be Saying ‘Traffic Violence’ Instead of ‘Car Accident’?

Social scientists and scholars have pushed us to think about the words we use and the impact they have. The language we choose to describe “car accidents,” “car crashes,” or “traffic violence” changes the way we think about our own actions.

In describing these situations, social scientists have challenged the public to think about how the words we choose excuse or lessen the perceived responsibility for a particular collision. A recent report in Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives explores just that.

Car Accident vs. Traffic Violence

People are naturally easily suggestible, and that can have real physical and legal consequences. Some people have argued that calling a collision between two vehicles an “accident” justifies the dangerous driving that causes injuries. After all, how can anyone prevent an “accident”?

That’s why some safe driving advocates prefer “car crashes” to “car accidents.” They also believe that describing these situations as “traffic violence” may be even more accurate.

Consider the following sentences as examples:

“Well, car accident injuries happen. You can’t keep everyone safe all the time.”

“Safe driving is essential. When you make reckless errors, your traffic violence hurts people.”

Some social scientists have argued that the second choice would help people better evaluate their ability to drive safely and take responsibility when they make mistakes that hurt others.

How Wording Affects Perception of Fault

If you’ve ever taken a composition class, you might have been told that it’s best to use active language. Rather than saying, “The ball was thrown by Jane,” you could say, “Jane threw the ball.” In fewer words, you more clearly say who did what.

The problem with how we talk and write about car crashes is that we remove the active agent altogether. When someone says they have “been in a car accident,” that wording removes the entity responsible for the crash.

In addition, the recent report identifies how “object-based and person-based language” changes how people think of their crashes. For example, the phrase “a car hit a person” doesn’t identify that the car was operated by a person. A more accurate way to say that information might be, “A distracted driver hit a person with a car.”

In fact, these scientists theorized that “rewriting the text to focus on the driver will reduce the pedestrian’s perceived blame and increase the driver’s.” When these scientists told car-pedestrian collision stories to participants in a study using wording that underscored that a person was behind the wheel, those participants were more likely to suggest punishment and fines for the reckless driver.

It’s easy to default into saying someone was hurt in an “accident.” But it’s important to remember that cars don’t drive themselves, and every driver makes choices related to safety. For example, drunk driving is not an accident. It is a choice ─ and an incredibly dangerous one.

We can all work to use more accurate language when we talk about collisions.

Were You Injured by a Dangerous Driver? Our Attorneys Can Help

If a reckless driver caused your injury, you can seek compensation for your losses. You deserve full and fair compensation for the medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering the crash caused you. Our lawyers can help. Contact Brooks Law for a free case evaluation today.


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