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Media Watch

Even When a Driver Intentionally Causes Mayhem, Media Call It an “Accident”

4:15 PM PDT on April 16, 2015

A witness described seeing the driver of this Prius back up intentional over the other car, but CBS LA improperly persisted in referring to this as an "accident." Image: CBS LA
A witness described seeing the driver of this Prius intentionally back up over the other car, but CBS LA persisted in referring to it as an "accident." Image: CBS LA
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The New York Police Department stopped using the term "accident" to refer to car collisions because it conveys the "connotation that there is no fault or liability." In the press, however, "accident" remains standard practice, even when a driver rams another person on purpose.

The Safe Roads Alliance, an organization that promotes safe driving, tracked down five examples just from the last few weeks where media outlets referred to intentional collisions as "accidents" (the reports also tend to say the crashes were perpetrated by vehicles, not the human beings who drive them). Here are the pieces they sent along, with the headline that ran with each story.

Seattle Times: "Road Rage Incident Leaves 1 Dead on I-5"

According to the Seattle Times, the driver of a Chevy SUV pulled in front of the driver of Dodge Neon on I-5, apparently enraged at his slow speed. The SUV driver proceeded to "brake check," causing the collision. A 23-year-old passenger in the Neon was killed, and three others were injured. Both drivers are being charged with vehicular homicide, and yet the Seattle Times goes on to say: "The State Patrol is seeking information regarding the accident."

WHIO: "I-70 Crash: Wrong-Way Driver Had a Criminal Past"

A 35-year driver was killed after going the wrong way on an Ohio freeway and colliding with a semi-truck. A witness to the crash reported the driver, Chris A. Coleman, appeared bent on suicide, speeding through a U-turn in the highway median and then driving into the path of the semi. Nevertheless, WHIO twice refers to the collision as an "accident" in its report.

CBC News North: "Whitehorse Police Seek Driver Involved in 'Road Rage' Collision"

The original report from the Canadian Broadcasting Company referred to a hit-and-run road-rage collision as an "accident." The crash apparently followed a verbal altercation and short chase, and was the result of brake-checking. After a commenter objected to the use of the word "accident," the language has since been changed on this one, so good on the CBC.

CBS Los Angeles: "Did Road Rage Lead to Prius Piggybacking Another Car?"

This article, about the collision shown above, includes testimony from a witness saying the Prius driver intentionally backed over the other car. That person is referred to as "a witness to the accident."

Aspen Daily News: "Murder Suspect May Have Tried to Kill Himself in Car Accident"

Pin this one on the headline writer. Arturo Navarrete-Portillo was badly injured in a wreck in mid-February. Reports about the incident unsealed this week revealed that Navarrete-Portillo had essentially admitted that he intentionally tried to harm himself in the crash, according to the Aspen Daily News. Still, the news outlet call it an "accident."

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