Grammar Moses: The distinction between 'crash' and 'accident' is an important one
It's not often that this column changes the course of politics in Illinois, but I'm going to enjoy the faint possibility that in this small way it has.
State Rep. Tom Weber, a Lake Villa Republican, has put forth legislation that would change "accidents" to "crashes" in state laws and state publications to describe vehicular, um, mishaps.
"Most, if not all, motor vehicle collisions are avoidable. Many are the result of reckless driving, drinking and driving or distracted driving," Weber said in a news release. "Accidents don't happen as the result of a person's willful or negligent actions, crashes do. To continue to refer to these incidents in state law as 'accidents' is offensive to the many families who have lost loved ones throughout the state."
Amen, Tom. This has been SOP at the newspaper for as long as I can remember.
I've been screeching for years that word choice is important in the stories we write about this sort of thing. I'm going to assume that Rep. Weber has encountered one of my columns on the subject and let it sink in osmotically.
When someone is drag racing on a street and hits a light pole, that is not an accident.
When someone decides to text his girlfriend to chit chat -- and doesn't see the pedestrian in the crosswalk in front of him -- that's not an accident. When someone chooses to down a few boilermakers and get behind the wheel, that person's impairment is a matter of choice. Getting behind the wheel is a matter of choice. And while crashing into a school might not have been the drinker's intention, the driver's careless disregard for what could happen while driving a two-ton vehicle in a state of intoxication is not "accidental."
It's not an accident. It's a crash.
I hate to be preachy in what's supposed to be a lighthearted column, but I'm passionate about the subject.
Perhaps this would play better on the editorial page.
Weber's office continues: "The National Transportation Safety Board, 28 other states, and New York City have already made similar changes in their laws and regulations to stop referring to traffic crashes as mere accidents. The legislation is supported by the Active Transportation Alliance and Mothers Against Drunk Driving."
"Crashes" certainly is the appropriate word in the scenarios both Weber and I have cited, but let's not go too bananas with this and call an unintended backing up over the mailbox or a stuck-in-traffic fender bump a "crash."
Calling something as benign as that a "crash" would be just as bad as minimizing the awfulness of a fatal DUI (insert your word here) by calling it an "accident."
Weber's bill passed the House last week with a vote of 106-1.
State Rep. Mary Flowers, who's represented Chicago's South Side since 1985, inexplicably voted no.
Let's hope the Senate follows the House's lead on this.
In last week's column, I wrote that England is an island. Dick Page called me on that gaffe. He pointed out that it is bounded by Scotland to the north and Wales to the west.
I should have noted the island is called Great Britain.
Write carefully, mate!
• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim's new book, "Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage," at grammarmosesthebook.com. Write him at email@example.com and put "Grammar Moses" in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at facebook.com/baumannjim.