It was nearly 20 years ago that I was sitting in a meeting and a Washington State DOT co-worker stopped me cold. I was describing an incident on a local highway that was snarling traffic, and my colleague interrupted my report.
“It’s ‘crash’ not ‘accident,'” he said. “We should never use ‘accident’ when describing crashes.”
I’m sure that I rolled my eyes. After all, I was the former journalist. I worked with media every day. I knew more about language that this guy. What was the big deal?
But in reality, he was right and his lesson stuck with me. “Accident” implies some kind of unavoidable randomness had a hand in the incident. Yet, in nearly every story behind the more than 34,000 annual highway fatalities, there is a cause. Those deaths were avoidable. Randomness? Perhaps. But certainly few were truly accidents.
While my co-worker’s lesson took place many years ago, the casualness with which most of us toss out the word “accident” is the focus of a new video by the Michigan DOT. The minute-long animated video makes the case that everyone who drives should take responsibility for their actions.
Michigan DOT is not alone. Safety advocates have argued for years that words matter and that we should not dismiss the carnage on our highways as simple accidents. The words we use help frame the way in which we see things.
Hopefully we’ll all heed the latest lesson from Michigan DOT, that actions (behind the wheel) matter too.
One of the 2019 honorees, a public service announcement produced by the Virginia Department of Transportation, used humor to capture drivers’ attention and raise awareness for an annual challenge.
During deer mating season, drivers have a much higher chance of encountering deer in the roadway, especially during dawn and dusk when visibility is lessened.
According to the VDOT award entry, more than 60,000 vehicle crashes involving deer took place last year. VDOT posted the PSA on Facebook, reaching more than 99,800 users. The 30-second video was shared 652 times on Facebook. It’s been viewed more than 24,000 times.
Congratulations to VDOT for using humor to highlight a serious safety issue for drivers.
The difference between outstanding and blah sometimes comes in subtle ways. In this powerful video posted recently by the Colorado Department of Transportation, the excellence is obvious – if you look.
The video takes place at a baseball stadium. The host interviews people, asking them how much alcohol they have consumed. Then, she asks each person whether they would be willing to drive. Then, she has them use a personal breathalyzer to test their blood alcohol level.
In Oregon, 75 percent of drivers admit to driving distracted. Nationally, at least that many drivers are eating, shaving, putting on makeup, texting, reading the newspaper … while driving a vehicle.
“As a culture I think we’re ready for a change,” said Tom Fuller, Oregon DOT communications manager, in a recent news release announcing a new statewide campaign there intended to help people drive more safely.
“The stories of deaths and injuries from distracted driving are as horrific as they are preventable,” Fuller added.