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Was It an Accident or a Collision?

My background is English, and I’m especially interested in some philosophical issues we run into when we use language. I sometimes talk to real-world writers (like police officers!) who wonder if all this theoretical stuff really matters.

Yes, it does – and here’s an example. You may be aware that some jurisdictions have improved their procedures for dealing with vehicle accidents. The NYPD is a good example.

Some time ago, the NYPD instituted a number of changes in the way it investigates and documents vehicular crashes. Case in point: The word “accident” has been replaced with “collision.”

The reason? The word accident evokes something unfortunate that happened on its own. But the word collision suggests that something went wrong. It feels more like a police matter. (You can read about the NYPD policy changes here.)

Paul Steely White is the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, a cycling and pedestrian advocacy group. He said the changes constitute “a very significant step toward a safer, more humane city.”

Words matter! “An accident is when a meteor falls through your house and hits you in the head,” he said. “Collisions can be prevented.”

Two cars that collided

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