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What is the difference between crash and accident?

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Sgt. Jesse Grabow, Minnesota State Patrol

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Question: As a traffic safety official, I am very upset that people don't realize that there is some significance as to what is going on with using the term "crash" as compared to using the word "accident" in news articles and other media. I see both terms used and I personally know that there is some intentionality about this. I know that you use the word crash for a reason, so can you do an article about this issue so that we can get everyone on the same page?

Answer: There is indeed something going on, and intentionally for the most part. The spark for this issue stems from a court trial from more than a decade ago involving the intentional ramming of a police vehicle, which resulted in the death of a police officer. During the trial, an attorney brought up the point that the incident was referred to by police in all of the reports as an "accident." It also was reported by police on an "accident" report form, thus it was argued that the incident was not intentional and charges should be dismissed. I won't get into the results of that trial, but ever since that time, traffic safety officials in the state have made a huge effort to influence everyone to use the word "crash" and not the word "accident."

Personally, I have been on board with this since the beginning. Mostly, the initial efforts for change were aimed at officers, media and traffic safety officials. We know that human driving error causes the vast majority of crashes and are therefore preventable. These crashes are not accidents and we need to use the correct term to define this.

Currently, the crash reports still have the word "accident" on them; however, I do think we have made great progress in changing the vernacular from accident to crash. We still have a lot of people using the term accident instead of crash, and it quite frankly is something that all traffic safety officials would like to see change. Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) program officials also feel very strongly about this and would love to see this change immediately. In addition, local traffic safety coalitions have helped a lot with this issue in many regions of the state.

I know this effort continues at the Department of Public Safety, in particular the Office of Traffic Safety. Also, most spokespersons at the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) also have learned to use the term crash in interviews.

Even though we continue to emphasize the word crash, the media frequently refers to them as accidents. I'm sure this is because they have grown up hearing crashes called "car accidents." As far as the media in general, I think there is such a turn-over in some media outlets that reporters move on and up into other venues and it seems like we are training in the new ones all the time.

Everyone should get into the habit of using the word "crash" instead of "accident," so we can all be on the same page with traffic safety and move forward.

If you have any questions concerning traffic related laws or issues in Minnesota, send your questions to Trp. Jesse Grabow — Minnesota State Patrol at 1000 Highway 10 West, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501-2205. (You can follow him on Twitter @MSPPIO_NW or reach him at, jesse.grabow@state.mn.us).

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