Accidents or Crashes: New York Knows...

Until I received an email from Transportation Alternatives (TA) this morning, I never knew that an agency as large as the New York DMV had taken a stand on the application/misapplication of these two words. Did you know that, following years of petitions and wrangling, TA finally convinced the NY Department of Motor Vehicles to forego using "accidents" in favor of "crashes." The semantic differences between these two words is something that bicyclists have long recognized. Use of the term "accident," of course takes blame and responsibility out of the equation, suggesting something that "just happened." Most people know better - things don't "just happen", things happen for a reason. By deciding to use the term "crash", the NY DMV correctly reintroduces the idea of responsibility for our actions. I know the mainstream media is hopelessly negligent in their definition of "accident" but, does anyone know if any other government agencies have followed, or preceded New York in this matter? Is there an active campaign to do this here in California, or anywhere else for that matter?

In case you are interested this is the relevant portion of the newsletter/email:

"What's in a name?" a despondent teenager once posited. And then by pints of blood and gore, Shakespeare proved exactly how much names matter. Transportation Alternatives doesn't do iambic pentameter, but in a recent victory, T.A. convinced the Department of Motor Vehicles of that Shakespearian lesson.

After years of petitioning, linguistic arguments and T.A. activists trekking to Albany, the New York State DMV agreed to stop calling crashes "accidents."

Call it semantics, but there’s nothing “accidental” about driving. When careless or dangerous driving results in a crash, it’s no accident -- it's simple cause and effect. But abstaining from the word "accident" isn't just commonsense, it's common: along with the DMV, the New York City Department of Health and Department of Transportation both use "crash," not "accident."

The NYPD, however, has not caught on. Tell the NYPD that traffic crashes are not accidents: Sign a letter to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly now!

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has a Master of Law degree from NYU, a Master of Public Administration from Harvard and 11 honorary degrees, but there’s one book missing from his library: the dictionary.

T.A. is asking the NYPD to catch up with their peers in the City and State, and we’re mailing them a copy of Merriam-Webster to make sure they get the message. Take action now, and T.A. will ship all your letters, and a dictionary, to 1 Police Plaza next week.


  1. Thanks for the post, Michael. I learned this the hard way, after my son was killed by a hit and run drunk driver while riding his bike in Portland Oregon 8/12/11. It is hard to get this point across, even though it seems so obvious. I speak at anywhere from 4 to 7 victim impact panels per month spreading that message. And tomorrow I give testimony before the Oregon judiciary committee. Please continue spreading the word; I came across your post from a link on Thanks!

    1. I also have a blog.

  2. Hello Kristi, thanks for commenting here. It looks like it has been about a year and half since you lost your son and probably far from enough time for the pain of loss to be diminished, so my condolences to you. Thank you also for your blog link; that is quite a sobering task you have set for yourself, but one with much potential to make a difference. My best regards.


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