Is the word “accident” falling away in favor of the word “collision?” It would seem so.
As per the New York Times yesterday, the New York Police Department will be investigating more car wrecks. In the process, there are two significant changes.
First, investigations will no longer be restricted to those incidents where someone has died, or is likely to die, but now will include cases where “there has been a critical injury or when a Police Department duty captain believes the extent of the injuries and/or unique circumstances of a collision warrant such action.” In other words, serious, yet non-fatal injuries. This is very good for those that were injured, though perhaps not so good if you were the one causing the injury.
But they they are also doing something else in the process, changing the name of the Accident Investigation Squad to the Collision Investigation Squad. This is a fairly significant change in language, for the word “accident” has built into it the assumption by many that an incident was unavoidable, like a deer leaping into the road at the last second. (See the last paragraph of the official letter: Accidents-Are-Now-Collisions)
But why would we use the same word for an unavoidable accident that we use for a very avoidable collision? We shouldn’t. And now that will change.
I had touched on this subject once before — and shame on me for not doing much more and permanently altering my own use of the word — when the BP oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. At that time,Tea Party darling Senator Rand Paul seemed ready to give a quick pass to BP, yelping “Sometimes accidents happen.”
According to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, “In the past, the term ‘accident’ has sometimes given the inaccurate impression or connotation that there is no fault or liability associated with a specific event.” The new nomenclature clears that up. Someone please send a note to Senator Paul.
Henceforth, we now have a solid citation for the argument that “accident” should be used for the unavoidable and “collision” for those that are avoidable. Thus, the dear that bolts into the path of your car is an accident. But the second car that plowed into you — because the driver was following too close — is a collision.
Let’s hope our judiciary also gets the memo.