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Deseret Morning News: No more 'accidents' on Utah roads

Nutshell version: They won't refer to collisions as "accidents" anymore. They'll be called "crashes" under the theory that there are no such things as accidents—there's always some preventable mistake that leads to highway crashes. There's a flaw in this argument, however: They're discounting crashes caused by unforeseen mechanical failures, unless they're also considering the potential loss of control after a tire blowout a "preventable mistake." For that matter, they're also assuming all drivers are expert enough to be able to dodge a deer that leaps into the road 100 feet ahead of the vehicle.

I'm all for consistent terminology, and the word "accident" has always struck me as something of a silly euphemism, but come on: Changing the word you use to describe an event is supposed to be an effective method of reducing the frequency of that event?

When I first moved to Seattle in 2002, the local radio stations were going through this same flap, trying to get their traffic reporters to stop referring to "accidents" and call them "crashes." The Washington State Patrol was encouraging the terminology change as a highway-safety measure along the sames lines of the UHP's effort.

Gotta love law-enforcement logic.

Entire story below the cut.

Public safety efforts aim to stop crashes

LEHI—Utah public safety and emergency personnel are eliminating the term "accident" from their lexicon as they push to improve safety on the state's public roadways.

UPH trooper makes traffic stop on I-15 near Lehi
UHP trooper Todd Johnson makes a traffic stop on I-15 near Lehi on Sunday as part of "Put the Brakes on Fatalities." Troopers want drivers to pay more attention to safety. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News)
Instead, they will be calling a "crash" a crash.

In their opinion, there really is no such thing as an accident.

Every incident involving a motor vehicle and an injury, death or property damage happens because someone made a preventable mistake, whether it be driving drunk, falling asleep at the wheel or forgetting to signal for a lane change while chatting on a cell phone.

"There's always a reason," said Nile Easton, Utah Department of Transportation information officer. "Crashes are the predictable result of someone's actions."

"We've reduced the number of fatalities on Utah's roads from 329 in 2002 to 309 in 2003," said Robert Hull, UDOT director of traffic and safety, during a press briefing for the fifth annual "Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day" event on Sunday. "(The reduction is) great, but we want to take that to zero."

Nationwide, 42,643 people died on the highways in 2003. Most involved drivers who were going too fast, were too tired or who had been drinking, officials said.

"We are doing everything we can to make our roadways as safe as possible," Hull said, noting that UDOT is increasing the use of a new cable median barrier system, safer pavement materials and more effective rumble strips along the road edges in its current construction projects.

"However, it is important to note that drivers still have the responsibility to drive their vehicles safely. When each of us get in our cars or trucks to go someplace, we make certain choices that not only can impact ourselves and those riding with us but other motorists as well," he said.

Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Ken Peay said one of the most difficult tasks of his job is having to knock on a family's door and tell them their son, daughter or spouse is not coming home, "ever."

Drivers can help the police and transportation officials reduce the number of fatalities by making sure they buckle up, drive slower, signal their intentions and avoid following too closely, said Trooper Todd Johnson, as he watched for speeding motorists on I-15 on Sunday morning.

"I watch people and when they see me, they slow down, they buckle up, they check their following distance. I just wish they would do those things before they see an officer," Johnson said.

"The Department of Transportation is doing what they can. We in the Highway Patrol will continue to do our job, but the motorists have to help us out," Johnson said, as he pulled over two speeding cars within the space of about 15 minutes.

"People need to watch their following distance, their speed and above all, be courteous to one another," he said. "Don't get into one of those road rage situations."

Johnson said one of the worst places for problems and crashes is the series of I-15 S-curves between American Fork and Provo. People follow way too close, he said.

Others allow themselves to be distracted by a child, spilled food, changing a CD or they simply nod off. Many are talking on cell phones when they make mistakes.

"Cell phones are not against the law, but anything that causes you to be distracted so that you change lanes without signaling or cross over the line is against the law," he said.

Johnson said the drowsy driver tends to cross lines and remain over the line longer than a drunken driver, who tends to exhibit quick swerves while trying to control a vehicle.

Either kind of driver is a problem and poses a potential deadly threat on the road, he said.

"Pull off somewhere safe and get your bearings," Johnson said. "Save a life."

UDOT's Easton said drivers should follow five guidelines to avoid fatal crashes:
  • Don't speed.
  • Don't drive while impaired.
  • Stay alert to construction and changing road conditions.
  • Wear a seat belt at all times.
  • Be aware of pedestrians.