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Why We Say 'Car Accident,' and Why We Need to Stop

The term suggests fatal crashes are inevitable and beyond our control—they're not.
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Dmitry Kalinovsky /

Once you start looking for them, you see the headlines everywhere. The ones about the seemingly autonomous killer cars: “Woman dies from injuries after car jumps curb,” or “Out of control car pins woman against produce stand,” or “Car barrels onto sidewalk in Brooklyn, mowing down boy.” It’s as if no one were driving.

Every day in the United States, some 90 people diewhen routine car trips turn deadly. Thousands more are injured. Lately, traffic-safety advocates have been pushing to get reporters and others to use different language to describe these all-too-common events. Pushing editors to rethink sentences that lack human agency—like this one, about a fatal car crash caused by a driver going to the wrong way: