Is our word choice causing more car wrecks?

It’s a car crash, not an accident. That’s the message coming from behavioral researchers partnered with The Risk Institute Distracted Driving Initiative at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business, who recommend that people need to stop using the word “accident” when comes to distracted driving crashes, as well as several other behavioral recommendations.

“One of the keys to curbing distracted driving fatalities and crashes is to change behavior and attitudes towards driving while distracted,” said Stacey Emert, partner at InAlign Partners and lead of the initiative’s behavior team. “One of the most effective methods is called social norming. This is essentially the collective thought about a behavior. Over the last 50 years, we’ve successfully flipped the collective thought on smoking, drunk driving, and child safety seats. We need to flip the collective mindset on distracted driving. We do this in part by changing the language we use: distracted driving accidents become crashes. You wouldn’t call a plane crash a plane accident.”

The Distracted Driving Initiative at The Risk Institute at is a nationwide endeavor comprised of dozens of companies, government entities, and researchers seeking to combine key partnerships, critical research, and leading-edge technology to predict and curb distracted driving behaviors.

“Unfortunately, people make choices that harm their ability to drive, like driving drunk, and so many traffic deaths could’ve been prevented if people stayed off the roads when drunk,” says Brittany Shoots-Reinhard, a psychology researcher at The Ohio State University. “In the 1980s, people were resistant to laws against drinking and driving, but now, we don’t drive drunk or let our friends drive drunk, either.”

The number of fatal traffic accidents rose 7.2 percent nationally in 2015 according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. It is the greatest year-over-year increase since 1966. Distracted driving was a factor in about 10 percent of auto deaths; the exact percentage is difficult to determine due to privacy rules and other factors.

“We can change the norms about distracted driving, too. These crashes are entirely preventable; at Ohio State, we’re working together to figure out how to help people not drive distracted”,” said Shoots-Reinhard.

The Risk Institute at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business brings together practitioners and researchers to engage in risk-centered conversations and to exchange ideas and strategies on integrated risk management. Through the collaboration of faculty, students and risk management professionals, The Risk Institute addresses risk at a broad cross section of industries and is dedicated to developing leading-edge approaches to risk management.

The Distracted Driving Initiative at the Risk Institute began in February 2017. Industry partners involved with the project are Honda Inc., Aon Benfield, Nationwide, NiSource, Ford, Motorists Insurance, DHL, State Auto, Freer Logic, TrueNorth, and others. Representing the legal and governmental branches are the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Ohio Department of Public Safety. Ohio-based Root Insurance, Smart Drive, Greenroad, and eDriving Fleet make up the technology voices in the conversation. A dozen researchers and thought leaders from OSU representing behavioral science, engineering, automotive research, risk and others make up the research arm of the initiative.

3 thoughts on “Is our word choice causing more car wrecks?

  1. Dear Risk Institute,
    Nice to see that people at OSU have finally come to understand the difference between traffic “Accidents” and traffic “Crashes.
    It turns out that my Ph.D. dissertation published in 1973 had the title: “The Journey to Death: A Spatial Analysis to Fatal Traffic Crashed in Michigan”. The analysis contained in this research work constantly referred to fatal traffic “crashes” as the work unfolded.
    It is nice to see that the larger research community is finally accepting this more accurate terminology for their research. I hope that the OSU Risk Institute will continue to use this authoritative and more accurate term to characterize their work on traffic crashes.
    Best wishes,
    Harold Moellering

  2. I have advised my students for years that words, indeed, do have meaning–nice to see that the sociologists are finally agreeing .
    They are right in that how we speak about a subject often determines the public reaction to it. Two of my favorites are revenue enhancement for tax increases and entitlements for welfare.
    Or on a grimmer note, collateral damage for harming or killing civilians.
    Ultimately, how these choices are viewed, I suppose, rests on one’s political philosophy.
    Very truly yours

  3. The part in this article that nails home the point is that, “you wouldn’t call a plane crash, an accident”, so we shouldn’t call the car crash an accident. It doesn’t matter if a person is killed or not. Lives are always changed after a crash! I know, someone crashed into us about 3 weeks ago and it totally changed my life. The words we use have power.

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