Accident vs. Crash: The View from Savannah

Here at Streetsblog, we often discuss the ongoing carnage caused by drivers on the nation’s roads and streets — and the near-total lack of accountability for those who are anything but staggering drunk. And we often discuss, too, the role that language plays in our perceptions of accountability. Today’s Streetsblog Network featured post, from Sustainable Savannah, is a particularly thoughtful and reasonable examination of the importance of terminology — "accidents" vs. "crashes":

355943537_9a269daacc.jpgPhoto by Brittany Randolph via Flickr.

As dependable as morning delivery of the paper (at least for now), any news item describing a car vs. pedestrian “accident” will be
greeted by comments from readers sympathizing with with driver and vilifying the pedestrian — no matter who is at fault. Many fret over the cost of the car’s bodywork.

This is indicative of a kind of thinking that imagines cars as being autonomous from the people who drive them. I’m guilty of this as well. When I was struck while riding my bicycle several years ago, I
described it as being “hit by a car,” not “hit by a person driving a car.” And I’ve done it again in this post. Every reference to car vs. pedestrian or car vs. cyclist above should really read “motorist vs. …”

Elsewhere around the network, many members are having a little April Fool’s fun, so be careful when you click. But these items seem to be for real: Kansas Cyclist reports on a growing network of bike trails in Little Rock, Arkansas; City Parks Blog posts on the recent call for a new urban vision from New York Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff; and our friends over at Santa Rosa CityBus take stock of their blogging experiment, four months in.

  • Savannah–at least the Historic District–has some very decent pedestrian safety measures in place. One thing I remember is that on one of the big tourist-trafficked roads, the ped crosswalks had push-button controls with audible announcements “wait…wait…wait…/walk…walk…walk”)

    Also has a great grid plan, from way back in like, 1737 or something.

  • christine

    Language reflects culture. Let change it. Maybe we could publish and send to all newspapers a refresher in effective crime writing for the news:

    First use the active mode : a driver hit a pedestrian – instead of a pedestrian was hit by a car.

    Second do not shy away from the facts: a driver Killed a pedestrian , instead of : a pedestrian died in a car crash.

    Third , where is the crime? Was the driver negligent, reckless, unfit , drunk?

    Fourth , were there priors? How come this criminal or this incompetent is at the wheel? coud thye answer basic dirving test questions? do they know the laws?

    Fifth , is the police doing its job? taking testimonies, keeping the car in custody until responsibilites can be deterermined? sending the perp to the hopsital for physical and competency tests?

    Many years ago , society was in denial about domestic violence. They have a come a long way. we may have to steal a page from their book.. HOw do we make everyone understand that the Pedestrian is the VICTIM ???

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