‘No such thing as an accident,’ because every crash has a cause: Roadshow

Q: When I was 16 and got my first speeding ticket in 1981, I went to traffic school. The instructor was a retired CHP officer who went around the room asking people why they were there: speeding, running a stop sign, etc.

A young woman said, “I was in an accident.”

“No, you weren’t,” said the instructor.

“Yes, I was,” she replied.

“No, you were in a crash,” he countered. “There are no accidents. They all have a cause and I’m guessing, since you’re here, that the cause of your crash was you.”


I’ve probably made too much of that little interaction over the last 40 years, but it’s guided me and made me a better driver and better person. I’ve passed that on to my 17-year-old daughter. Referring to crashes as accidents allows people to eschew responsibility for their actions.

Phil Smith, San Jose

A: The CHP guy clearly got his point through to you and hopefully others, including your teen driver.

Q: Your column re: “crash or accident?” evoked memory of a discussion. I rolled my car after hitting black ice under about 6 inches of slush in Shasta County. In our community, we knew our CHP officers and sheriff’s deputies because there were very few and we frequently chatted with them at their meal breaks. We asked a couple of them at lunch about getting a copy of the “accident report.”

We were informed that the “incident report” would be available at the CHP office. The title of the report was because there is no such thing as an accident. An incident involving a motor vehicle is either unavoidable or the fault of someone. “Crash,” “collision,” “accident” describe incidents journalistically and conversationally, but none attribute fault or lack thereof.

We listened to them chat about several stories in the newspaper that used those very terms, describing incidents as crashes, collisions and accidents depending on the reporter, copywriter or headline writer.

Leslie Mastalarz, Morgan Hill

A: And …

Q: One item that they, and we, found most amusing that morning was a headline about the arrest of a drunk driver involved in an “accident.” A driver under the influence was arrested and a motorcyclist was cited for not wearing a helmet at the scene, but neither was involved in the collision created by a brand-new RV that ran through a red light when the driver thought he could get a bottle of water out of the refrigerator while in cruise control.

The headline: Three-Time Drunk Driver in Multi-Car Crash. Subtitle: Motorcyclist Not Wearing Helmet.

Leslie Mastalarz

A:  Definitely not accidents.

Join Gary Richards for an hour-long chat noon Wednesday at www.mercurynews.com/live-chats. Look for Gary Richards at Facebook.com/mr.roadshow or contact him at mrroadshow@bayareanewsgroup.com or 408-920-5335.

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Author: Gary Richards