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Does the term 'accident' downplay the role of at-fault drivers?

West Palm Beach auto accident attorney

When a catastrophe occurs on West Palm Beach roadways, the term "accident" frequently comes up. To what degree is a crash caused by human error really an accident, however?

If a motorist makes the decision to text while driving, and causes someone else's injury or death, can it truly be called an accident? The answer is "no," yet the term continues to be used loosely by journalists who report on crashes, according to a 2019 study published by The National Academy of Sciences' Transportation Research Board.

Researchers at Rutgers University, Arizona State University, and Texas A&M University analyzed the titles and body text of 200 local news articles that reported crashes with pedestrians and bicyclists.

'Accident' - a prevalent term in the news

In the study, pedestrians and bicyclists are referred to as "vulnerable road users" (VRUs). After scrutinizing the selected news articles, researchers found a pattern of language that seemed to paint driver fault as a gray area.

Researchers focused on two key areas:

  • How the language used in news articles distributed blame
  • Whether or not crashes involving VRUs were preventable or even cited as "public health issues"

The study found that the term "accident" was used in 47 percent of body text sentences and 11 percent of titles. In some cases, the term was used in articles involving a driver who was charged with a crime and arrested as a result of a crash. The term "crash" was used in 45 percent of body text sentences. Other terms included:

  • "Incident" — 21%
  • "Hit-and-run" — 13%
  • "Collision" — 11%

The role of object-based language in news articles

The study also scrutinized "object-based language," in which journalist cite the agents involved in a crash. For example, terms such as "pedestrian," "car," "vehicle" and "driver" are considered agents.

Roughly 65 percent of body text sentences included agents, with 74 percent of the focus on the terms "pedestrian" and "bicyclist." The term "vehicle" was used 81 percent of the time, as opposed to "driver," which was used only 19 percent of the time.

The most common title structures read as follows:

  • A VRU was hit
  • A VRU was hit by a car

The title "a driver hit a VRU" was used only three percent of the time.

The sentence types identified in the body text most commonly included:

  • A VRU was hit by a car
  • A VRU was hit

The sentence type "a driver hit a VRU" was used only 10 percent of the time, and "a VRU was hit by a driver" was used only three percent of the time.

Placing the blame where it's due

The study authors urge journalists to shy away from "accident" and begin using "crash" and "collision" when reporting roadway incidents.

West Palm Beach attorney David J. Glatthorn knows that when someone is injured by a distracted, impaired, or reckless driver, it's no accident. Nobody accidentally texts and drivers, accidentally gets behind the wheel after having too much to drink, or accidentally engages in aggressive driving.

That's why attorney Glatthorn and his experienced legal team are dedicated to advocating for crash victims. He can launch a thorough investigation, find out where the negligence occurred, and fight to maximize your compensation. If you were hurt in a crash, contact David J. Glatthorn, P.A. online today and schedule your free case review.

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Since 1980, Attorney David Glatthorn has been serving the residents of West Palm Beach. He works in many areas of personal injury law, including car accidents, slip and fall injuries, workplace injuries and many others. Attorney Glatthorn is known for his dedication and experience. If you were injured due to another person's negligence, call David Glatthorn Law today.

David J. Glatthorn, P.A.
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