Roadway fatalities are soaring at a rate not seen in 50 years, resulting from crashes, collisions and other incidents caused by drivers.
Just don’t call them accidents anymore.
That is the position of a growing number of safety advocates, including grass-roots groups, federal officials and state and local leaders across the country. They are campaigning to change a 100-year-old mentality that they say trivializes the single most common cause of traffic incidents: human error.
“When you use the word ‘accident,’ it’s like, ‘God made it happen,’ ” Mark Rosekind, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said at a driver safety conference this month at the Harvard School of Public Health.
“In our society,” he added, “language can be everything.”
Almost all crashes stem from driver behavior like drinking, distracted driving and other risky activity. About 6 percent are caused by vehicle malfunctions, weather and other factors.
Preliminary estimates by the nonprofit National Safety Council show deadly crashes rose by nearly 8 percent in 2015 over the previous year, killing about 38,000 people.
Dr. Rosekind has added his voice to a growing chorus of advocates who say that the persistence of crashes — driving is the most dangerous activity for most people — can be explained in part by widespread apathy toward the issue.
Changing semantics is meant to shake people, particularly policy makers, out of the implicit nobody’s-fault attitude that the word “accident” conveys, they said.
On Jan. 1, the state of Nevada enacted a law, passed almost unanimously in the Legislature, to change “accident” to “crash” in dozens of instances where the word is mentioned in state laws, like those covering police and insurance reports.
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