Collision or Accident?

Earlier this week in Novato, CA, a 9 year old girl was killed and her Dad is in critical condition (after having his leg amputated). The cause? A drunk motorcyclist named Edward Schaefer hit them while they were crossing the street in a crosswalk. Apparently, another vehicle had appropriately stopped to yield to the child and her Dad in the crosswalk. Schaefer did not. Media outlets have reported (and who knows how accurate it is) than Schaefer pulled around the stopped vehicle and then hit the child and her Dad.

Why am I bringing this up? Probably not for the reason you’d suspect. Yes, I think Schaefer is a piece of shit and I’d want his head on a platter if it was my family. However, my point in shining a light on this is the media’s use of the phrase “DUI accident”.

Here are the definitions of both collision and accident from

1. the act of colliding; a coming violently into contact; crash: the collision of two airplanes.

acâ‹…ciâ‹…dent [ak-si-duhnt]
1. an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss; casualty; mishap: automobile accidents.

Here’s my issue. The use of the word ‘accident’ is inappropriate based on Schaefer’s being under the influence. When you’ve made the decision to drive while intoxicated, there is nothing unintentional about the happening. Undesirable? Check. Unfortunate? Damn straight. Unintentional? Hell no.

The other problem with the use of the word ‘accident’ is the use the defense can make of it during a trial, be it civil or criminal. If you can convince one nimrod on a jury the incident was indeed an accident, the odds of the responsible party being found culpable are severely diminished. More so in a criminal trial, of course, since you need a unanimous decision. If you get a defense attorney with half a brain (insert your own lawyer joke here), it wouldn’t be too difficult to make the leap to “Hey, we’ve all made mistakes. It was just an accident. He didn’t do it purposefully. He had no intention of hurting anyone.”

I feel confident saying everyone knows how dangerous drinking and driving is. If you’re bright enough (and it doesn’t take much) to drive a car, you’re bright enough to figure out the possible consequences. It’d be like getting cancer after having smoked for 50 years and claiming you didn’t know smoking could harm you. You know, you just accidentally got fucking cancer. Come on…you expect me to buy that?

Of course the media is not responsible for the defense of Schaefer. And, allegedly, they are unbiased (sssuuuurrrreeee, they are…wink, wink). I get that they don’t know the ins and outs of the criminal justice system, but some things just bug me and this is one of them. Using ‘accident’ puts you in a certain frame of mind that, more often than not, isn’t the accurate one.

‘Collision’ or even ‘crash’ is much more appropriate and accurate. You can’t deny a collision happened…and with tragic results. To even entertain the idea that the incident was an accident is offensive to the memory of the little girl and her now one-legged Daddy who will never get to hold her again.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Snark is encouraged. Being a prat is not.

7 thoughts on “Collision or Accident?

  1. We are getting rid of the word "accident" all together down here. The accident division name was changed to the mobility division or something close like that.

    accidents are unintentional but someone still had to do something to make one happen. even if it is not driver error, there is aome human factor somewhere that causes the collision.

  2. Well put sensei of traffic. We are actually prohibited by policy and procedure as listing any type of collision as an "accident."

  3. That's why we live by the CHP Collision Investigation Manual, not the Accident Investigation Manual.

  4. When the Princess tips over her glass of milk whilst she is reaching for a crayon it is deemed an “accident” and should only be punishable by lovingly instructing her to be more careful – she’ll likely be more cautious the next time. When a dipstick induldges in his favorite frosty adult beverage and then saddles up his rice rocket and without a care in the world runs over a dad and his princess (forever altering life as they knew it)– there is nothing accidental about it. There should be hell to pay! Punishment should be swift and severe. Likely, however, some other dipstick sitting on the jury panel will not be able to see this for what it is – an intentional act of thoughtlessness and oh so much more – and will indeed see it as an “accident”. I think the word should be stricken from the English language except when used in reference to children learning not to spill their milk.

  5. Point well made. Using and abusing alcohol – and then hurting someone else – never should be considered an 'accident'.

  6. I know this is veeeery late but I just had to comment. This doesn't have so much to do with the terminology (which I agree with you about by the way) as it does the situation. Four years ago two close friends of mine were killed on a motorcycle. A woman, hammered out of her mind, went through a stop sign and promptly hit them. I don't know exacts but she was WAY above the legal limit. She was a wealthy and popular woman in town. Everyone knew she had a drinking problem and people that night let her drive KNOWING she was inebriated.

    I know she did not set out to kill two young people (they were 19) but she is still responsible and if I ever heard anyone refer to it as an "accident" I would rip their heads off.

    A bigger slap in the face? Due to some stupid technicality She is only serving one year in the county jail (I am in New Hampshire) with a few years probation. With good time she will be out in 8 months. Seriously, some of our priorities are backwards. Any collision that occurs because of someone driving under the influence should not be considered an accident.

    And food for thought, no one can tell me I don't understand. My dumb ass HAS a DUI. Granted, it was a .04 2 weeks before I turned 21, and I was pulled over because my muffler was too loud (legally it wasn't). I didn't bitch and moan and carry on. I sucked it up and dealt with it and didn't try to blame anyone else for my dumb ass.

    Sorry for ranting but this topic just puts me right over the edge… I love your blog BTW. Just starting to obsessively read all the archives =)

  7. That is an appalling story, and I grieve for the family who has lost so much. I pray that I never have to experience pain like theirs. My comment is not intended to comment on this particular tragedy necessarily, but to explain the journalistic use of the word "collision" in general.

    The manual that journalists generally rely on when writing articles is called the Associated Press Stylebook. It's like a cross between a dictionary and a grammar encyclopedia, and it's supposed to trump all other manuals. Anyhow, this is the entry on "collision" in the AP Stylebook: "Two objects must be in motion before they can collide. A moving train cannot collide with a stopped train." In other words, a journalist is not allowed to use the word "collision" in the same way as the police and the general public use it.

    In the heartbreaking Novato case, you could arguably have used "collision" because the little girl and her father were walking across the street when that man hit them. That's how I would have written the article. But if the girl and her father had been sitting on a bench when this asshole struck them, I'm not sure what word we could use other than "accident" or "tragedy." We can't call it "the criminal act" or "the crime" until he is found guilty in a criminal court or else we'd violate journalistic ethics and maybe be sued for libel.

    Anyway, just a tiny window into the tortured verbal gymnastics that journalists go through. I'll remember this poor family in my prayers.

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