Safety analysts are beginning to consider how the public talks about vehicle crashes in order to raise awareness about common distracted driving cases. Word choice, experts claim, impacts how we view concepts, shaping our understanding and acceptance of social trends. Now, many Departments of Transportation (DoT) across the nation are using this theory to change the public’s perception of vehicle crashes, hoping more drivers will pledge to be responsible on the road.
Accidents & Negative Public Perception
In total, DoT’s in 28 states are avoiding using the word “accident” when referring to a car crash, believing that crashes are preventable and mostly caused by a driver's lack of responsibility.
A car accident, on the other hand, suggests the cause of the crash was out of the driver’s control and could not be averted. This removes any implication of guilt, regardless of what the drivers were doing moments before the impact. MoDOT has used "crash" instead of "accident" since 2014.
The Major Cause of Accidents in the US
Research shows what many drivers already know: distracted driving is a frequent occurrence in the United States. A 2015 Erie Insurance survey found drivers admit to many forms of distracted driving, including texting, brushing teeth, and changing clothes.
In another study, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration claims drivers who use handheld devices has continued to increase since 2013 despite changes in state legislation and national campaigns against distracted driving.
Why Using “Car Accidents” Is Problematic
Linguists believe word choice manipulates meaning as the interpretation of a word is far more complex than a black-and-white dictionary definition. Therefore, if “crash” were to replace the common term “accident,” such as MoDOT’s conscious word replacement, perhaps more drivers would be influenced on a broader scale to actively monitor their driving habits, viewing themselves as agents for safe and responsible driving. And for Missouri, this couldn’t come at a better time.
According to the Missouri Highway Patrol, the number of fatal car crashes is up 7% from last year with human error to blame for 94% of all fatalities.
Just as MADD was able alter the public’s perception of drunk driving, perhaps a simple turn of phrase can help Missouri drivers actively practice safe driving.
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