Driver Knowledge Tests

Accident vs crash – is there any difference?

There’s an argument that periodically surfaces about the semantics (i.e. the meaning) of accidents vs crashes (or collisions). Some people argue that when a vehicle crashes it is never an accident because it was preventable. However, this is simplistic and, well, wrong.

The word ‘accident’ describes intent. If we look at one definition of accident it is an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury. Therefore, if you throw a knife at a group of people and it hits and stabs one of them, it’s not an accident because it was deliberate; however, if you trip in the kitchen while carrying a knife and you stab someone, it is an accident. Sure, you should have perhaps been more careful, and you could have decided to carry the knife in a sheath, but the fact remains that you had no intention of stabbing the person in the second instance, you were simply moving the knife from one place to another.

The same applies with an accident. If you run a red light, this is like throwing the knife at a group of people – you might hit one, you might not hit one, but the chances are that you will because you have dramatically increased your risk by deliberately increasing the likelihood you will cause someone significant harm. However, if you are driving normally and you fail to notice that the inside of the corner is shaded and still a little frosty and that causes you to crash off the road into a tree, that is an accident.

Should you have been more careful? Of course, but the level of care you take is completely representative of your previous experiences with similar situations. It still does not eliminate the intent, which was to stay on the road.

Are crashes, collisions or accidents preventable?

Non-preventable scenarios

100% of vehicle accidents are preventable if you never drive, but that’s ridiculous. Most accidents are preventable in real life. The only ones that are not preventable are, for example, when a rock slide hits your campervan (this happened in New Zealand recently, sweeping the campervan into a gorge), if a tyre blows out because of a sharp stone in the road, if you come around a corner and a kangaroo jumps out in front of you unexpectedly, or if another driver runs into you when you have zero time or space to react or evade them. These are all unpreventable accidents because, while driving normally, you are presented with a situation that either the vehicle or you are incapable of avoiding because of the laws of physics and biology.

Preventable scenarios

As we said above, the vast majority of accidents are preventable. By accidents, we mean when you didn’t do something overtly and deliberately dangerous, you simply made a misjudgment. For example you were driving without exceeding the speed limit, in a vehicle that was roadworthy (good tyres, brakes, suspension, etc), leaving enough gap between you and the vehicle in front, and you were not driving drunk, drugged or tired, and what happened was that you misread the road surface or direction. These accidents are preventable by improving your road skills and awareness. Advanced driving courses, instruction from an approved driving instructor, and maintaining concentration on the road will keep you safe.

Crashes are 100% avoidable because there’s an element of premeditation. A crash or collision is where your driving choices deliberately raised the stakes. What we are talking about here are things like:

  • Drunk, drugged or tired driving
  • Using your mobile phone
  • Being distracted
  • Speeding
  • Tailgating
  • Driving a vehicle with bald tyres and shot brakes
  • Running a red light.

In these cases, you are likely to be the cause of the incident.

What about if you are the person who is not at fault? Good drivers are often able to mitigate the actions of others and avert a collision. It’s your anticipation of the actions of other drivers that will give you advanced warning that allows you to take action to avoid it. Many times, when the events around a crash are dissected, the party that is not at fault could have taken much more effective evasive action through better anticipation.

Can it be a crash and accident at the same time?

Yes. If you are the person who causes the incident through one or more of the above, you had a crash. The other person had an accident.

What’s the take-away from this?

We need to be aware what crashes and accidents actually are. Preventing crashes is 100% within your power, and you can go a long way towards eliminating accidents by improving your skills on the road.

Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

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Posted in Advice, Car, Heavy Vehicle, Motorbike
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