x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Bad driving is no accident

An accident is not an accident when describing a preventable, predictable event that could be avoided.

A Google search for the word "accident" will often bring up a few stories about deadly car crashes. It is a most unfortunate use of the word and, I think, a bit inappropriate for describing what are preventable, predictable events that could be avoided. An accident, according to the free online Oxford Dictionary, is "1. an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally. 2. an incident that happens by chance or without apparent cause."

A crash, in contrast, is to collide violently with another person or vehicle. Look up "collide", however, and its first definition is "to be hit by accident when moving". So am I, and the many road safety experts who deplore the use of the word "accident", nitpicking over nothing? I would argue that the word "accident", for most of us, makes us think of something that could not have been avoided, but when we read "collision", we think of two objects hitting each other.

The difference is important. Using the word "accident" takes away a crucial facet of operating a motor vehicle: responsibility. Unfortunately, this year's Gulf Traffic Week did nothing to battle this particular problem. Again, it was a matter of language, but the theme - "Be aware of other's faults" - seemed to suggest that it was not the individual driver reading the slogan who needed to improve, but those around them. There was no incentive in that slogan for anyone to take responsibility for their own actions on the road.

I do not think anyone would argue that, for instance, a fatal, single-vehicle crash that occurred earlier this month, involving a mother who lost control of her vehicle and smashed into a roadside barrier, happened without apparent cause. Yes, the woman, who police say may have been distracted by her two-year-old child travelling unbelted in the front seat, may not have expected that her actions would lead to a crash, but certainly the incident could have been avoided.

So too, when a motorist driving too fast for the road conditions finds him or herself with not enough time to react to a vehicle stopped in the road. Another avoidable incident purely on the shoulders of that driver. It seems we shy away from attributing blame for crashes, but this "what ya gonna do? Accidents happen" attitude behind the word needs to be addressed if the pandemic of road crashes is to be remedied. Traffic casualties are the leading cause of death for people around the world aged five to 29, according to the United Nations. Solutions are out there; we have seen how other countries, such as the UK and Sweden, have brought down their road death tolls.

Even newspapers, including this one, are all guilty of describing collisions as accidents. In fact, I have been guilty of using the word at times. It is, for journalists, sometimes seen as an alternative word to crash and collision, but we all need to be aware of the true meanings, and we must start recognising a crash for what it really is - and is not. Yes, we all need to be alert and drive defensively. Yes, there are a lot of bad drivers out there. But the first step to safer roads is for each of us to acknowledge our own faults and try to improve on them. And, most importantly, take responsibility for our own driving. mchung@thenational.ae