Ounce of Prevention

That “A” word

Guest Author: This entry was written by Cassandra Mitchell, a third year Ryerson Nursing student placed with the RBC First Office for Injury Prevention.

I always hear that unfortunate word associated with car crashes. And that word is…“accidents”; it is an inappropriate term to use to describe collisions, because it implies that something is unexpected/ unavoidable essentially there was no way to prevent it. Furthermore, it is used to describe something that is preventable as an “act of god”. This is inappropriate because usually the situations leading to a collision are predictable (such as speeding), though the exact circumstances are not. The same could be said about a majority of all injuries, such as a slipping on the street or falling down the stairs.

There is always something that can be addressed to prevent the initial occurrence. When “accident” is used to describe a collision, it ignores the true cause of the destructive damage and the consequences. The damage sustained during a collision is caused by the transfer of energy from one vehicle to another whether that be the human body (inside or out) or another object. The transfer of energy is especially damaging to the human body. Therefore, engineers have gone to great lengths to minimize the effect of collisions with many safety measures such as seat belts and airbags.

“Accident” is an old word, it was used to describe superfluous aspects by Aristotle. More recently, it evolved to a more modern definition in the 14th century from the latin verb accidere “to fall”, and in the medical practice of physicians in the 16-19th centuries to describe adverse symptoms. The industrial revolution led to an increase of injuries from work related injuries, and with the rise of medical science reducing the number of premature deaths from infectious diseases, “accidents” became more noteworthy. For example, motor vehicle collisions are now the number 1 cause of injury and death for youth.

There are many factors that come into play in the circumstances leading to a collision. We need to examine these factors to address, prevent or minimize any impacts caused by them.

For example, prior to collisions drivers can be affected by: 

  • distractions (cell phones, GPS devices)
  • intoxication (alcohol or drug use)
  • poor weather conditions (rain, snow, fog)
  • risky behaviour (speeding)
  • condition of vehicle (brakes, tires, malfunctioned headlights)
  • proper road conduct (checking blind spots, signaling, watching for pedestrians)
These factors affect visibility, reaction time and judgment. Drivers who avoid distractions can keep their eyes on the road for longer periods of time. Speeding affects the reaction time, increases stopping distance and the amount of energy transferred during the collision. All these factors are predictable and preventable by simply taking more precautions. Injuries caused by a collision can be minimized by wearing a seat belt (that is properly functioning) or ensuring working airbags.
The word gets in the way of the real causes of collisions by simply dismissing it as an unpreventable, and unexpected event. There can be many factors that cause a collision, but dismissing it away prevents further discussion.

It would be better to use other terms to describe an “accident” such as:

• Collision

• Crash• Mishap
• Impact

• Occurrence
• Incidence

This video from the WSIB display how easy it for an injury to occur:

Please leave other appropriate words or thoughts in the comments below…

About the author: This entry was written by Cassandra Mitchell, a third year Ryerson Nursing student placed with the RBC First Office for Injury Prevention.


Loimer, H., & Guarnieri, M. (1996). Accidents and Acts of God: A History of the Terms. American Journal of Public Health, 86(1), 101. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Stewart, A. (2002). Motor Vehicle Crash versus Accident : A Change in Terminology Is Necessary. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 15(4), 333. Retrieved from EBSCOho

About the author


Injury Prevention Team