Car accident or car crash?

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A caller on a radio talkback program raised the question of using the word crash when we talk about cars colliding rather than accident, the implication being in the case of accident that it was no one’s fault, whereas it probably was someone’s fault and radio presenters should not prejudge the case. They should use the neutral word crash rather than accident.

 The presenter challenged in this way replied that he found crash a rather confronting word. If he had to say There’s been a crash on the M4 he would hear the sound of vehicles colliding. It was all a bit too close for comfort.

 But I discover that that is exactly the point. There are those who say that most car collisions are indeed the fault of a driver who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or speeding, or not paying attention.  The word accident sweeps it all under the carpet. The word crash makes us pay attention to the facts of the mayhem on our roads.

 It seems that this argument has been simmering along ever since automobiles were invented. In the early datys of motoring there were enough collisions for it to become necessary to separate cars and pedestrians. The image of a motor car as a killing machine had, however, lodged in the minds of the community so the car lobby worked at replacing car crash with car accident in the hope that this would make people think of cars as more benign creations. Those pushing for safety and regulation lobbied just as hard for crash to be used to keep the danger in the forefront of people’s minds.  The term car accident won the day.

 So are we switching from accident to crash? It would seem that government organisations are adopting the policy of referring to a car crash.  One television channel distinguishes between accidents, crashes and truck crashes but not many others go to that level of separation. The situation is pretty mixed, in fact, with crash and accident sometimes even occurring in the same text. One possibility that hasn’t been explored is that Australians might adopt prang as familiar, not shocking, not attributing blame or innocence, and not burdened with all the baggage that accident and crash have acquired. I must suggest it to the sensitive radio presenter.

Sue ButlerComment