• Steve Schmidt - Drive Safe Missoula

Is it an Accident or is it a Crash?

Long before working here at Drive Safe Missoula, I spent eight years as a Police Officer for the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department. During those years, I dispatched to hundreds and hundreds of "Reported Traffic Accidents." I've filled out hundreds of "Missouri Uniform Accident Reports" (which have since been retitled Missouri Uniform Crash Reports). An intersection in my patrol area was routinely ranked in the Top 10 highest accident intersections in Kansas City, Missouri. (350 Hwy and Nolan Rd.) Side note: On Google Maps Street view, there are even a couple KCPD officers who have pulled a car over just west of that intersection (here). I spent countless days (in the late 1990s) conducting traffic enforcement attempting to make this a safer area for traffic and get it off the Top 10 list.


One thing I didn't realize, in 8 years of filling out reports, writing tickets, towing vehicles, and following ambulances to the hospital, was that none of these were actually "accidents." They were crashes. Someone or something was alway at fault.

There has been a movement in recent years, to avoid using the word "Accident" when describing vehicular crashes. There is even a website crashnotaccident.com and they state, "Traffic crashes are fixable problems, caused by dangerous streets and unsafe drivers. They are not accidents. Let’s stop using the word "accident" today."

Having returned to the world of traffic safety, I've been scolded several times for my frequent use of the word "accident." Old habits die hard, but I'm really trying to avoid the word "Accident." when I'm speaking or giving a presentation.

Let's take a look at why this is important.

I asked Google to "Define Accident," and it is defined as:

  1. an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.

  2. An event that happens by chance or that is without apparent or deliberate cause.

The words "unfortunate incident" is the key to defining "accident." If a meteor flew from space and landed on my car as I was driving down the road, that would be an "unfortunate incident." Or, if strong winds happen to blow a tree over and it lands on my car as I'm pulling out of a parking spot, that might be an accident. However, if I hydroplaned due to standing water on the roadway and crashed into a pole, it's not an unfortunate incident. Sure, it was "unintentionally," and I may not have been expecting it, but it was caused by me driving too fast for conditions and driving on bald tires. That's not an unfortunate incident, that's negligence on my part for driving too fast for conditions and failing to safely maintain my vehicle. If I'm searching for a song on my phone and hit the car stopped infront of me, that's not an accident.


If there was "Deliberate Cause" then it moves from the traffic world over to the criminal world. For example, lets say I decided to ram my mint 1986 Mercury Grand Marquis Colony Park Station wagon into my neighbors garage door, it's property damage. If I deliberately ram my neighbor who is sitting in their car, that becomes an assult.

So as we drive forward in this world, please buckle up and join us in the effort to use the word "Crash" when describing vehicle colissions.


Please continue to visit DriveSafeMissoula.com and thank you for setting the example.


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