Here is the reasoning. The terminology switch at NHTSA occurred years ago…
The NHTSA Campaign
I (finally! I found it in archive.org) dug up the NHTSA Now! Volume 3, Number 11 from August 1997; below is the entire article pasted from “NHTSA Now!”:
“Crashes Aren’t Accidents” Campaign
by Pamela Anikeeff, Traffic Safety Programs
On June 8, at the opening of the Lifesavers/15 Conference in Orlando, Florida, Administrator Ricardo Martinez, M.D., with Secretary Rodney Slater kicked off the new nationwide campaign “Crashes Aren’t Accidents”. The Campaign was initiated by Adminstratror Martinez to encourage removal of the word “accident” from our vocabulary. The campaign kickoff featured a poster sized Proclamation (see box) announcing the “Crashes Aren’t Accidents” campaign which was signed by the Administrator as part of the ceremony. In a short time, numerous organizations representing thousands of supporters joined the Administrator and literally “signed onto” the Proclamation as well.
A Crash Is Not an Accident
Changing the way we think about events, and the words we use to describe them, affects the way we behave. Motor vehicle crashes and injuries are predictable, preventable events. Continued use of the word “accident” promotes the concept that these events are outside of human influence or control. In fact, they are predictable results of specific actions.
Since we can identify the causes of crashes, we can take action to alter the effect, and avoid collisions. These events are not “acts of God” but predictable results of the laws of physics.
The concept of “accident” works against bringing all the appropriate resources to bear on the enormous problem of motor vehicle collisions. Continuous use of “accident” fosters the idea that the resulting injuries are an una-voidable part of life.
“Crash”, “collision”, “incident”, and “injury” are more appropriate terms, and should be encouraged as substitutes for the word “accident”.
Within the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (US DOT/NHTSA), the word “accident” will no longer be used in materials published and distributed by the agency. In addition, NHTSA is no longer using “accidents” in speeches or other public remarks, in communications with the news media, individuals or groups in the public or private sector.
Recently, two other U.S. Department of Transportation agencies, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) joined NHTSA Administrator, Dr. Ricardo Martinez, endorsing his goal to eliminate “accident” from the agencies’ vocabulary. In this manner, attention will be focused on causes of crashes, and what can be done to prevent collisions and the resulting injuries.
Campaign materials include three specific items: 1) a four page booklet which contains a letter from Administrator Martinez concerning the campaign, a copy of the Proclamation announcing the campaign, a sample article for newsletters, and a page of the “Crashes Aren’t Accidents” logo in various sizes ready for use; 2) a brochure which lists 15 proven ways to prevent crashes and avoid injuries; 3) Stickers with the “Crashes Aren’t Accidents” logo. These three items are available from the Office of Communications and Outreach, Marketing and Media Division. Additional materials for conference exhibits include: Plastic carrying bags, red plastic paper clips, and lapel pins with the “Crashes Aren’t Accidents” logo.
Whereas, changing the way we think about events and the words we use will affect the way we behave. Our goal is to eliminate the word “accident” from the realm of unintentional injury, on the highway and across the nation;
Whereas, motor vehicle crashes and injuries are predictable, preventable events. Continued use of the word “accident” promotes the concept that these events are outside of human influence or control. In fact, they are predictable results of specific actions;
Whereas, we can identify their causes and take action to avoid them. These are not “acts of God”, but predictable results of the laws of physics;
Whereas, use of the word “accident” works against bringing the appropriate resources to bear on this enormous problem. It allows the idea that the resulting injuries are an unexpected part of life;
Now, therefore, we the undersigned, in recognition of this life saving and injury preventing opportunity, do hereby proclaim a national campaign:
“Crashes Aren’t Accidents”
To eliminate the word “accident” from the realm of unintentional injury, on the highway and across the nation, with our partners, with the media, and in all public contexts.
I encourage the use of other appropriate terms such as “crash,” ” collision,” “incident,” and “injury.”
Letter to the Editor
This letter appeared in the August 1998 issue of the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery:
A Plea for Prevention Please note that the term MVA (Motor Vehicle Accident) will not be used in this document. An accident is defined as an unpredictable and unpreventable event. The researched causes of Motor Vehicle “Accidents” are 85% driver error, 10 % road or environmental factors and 5% vehicle failure; therefore they do not fit the criteria to be deemed accidental. Injuries caused by Motor Vehicle Collisions, while unintentional, are still preventable through the addressing of the factors contributing to these injuries.
Poole, Galen V. MD, FACS
Chairman, Violence Prevention Task Force; Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma.
Here’s a pretty good summation
Reprinted from Philip Yannarella’s Sept 2003 “Documents for Everyone” newsletter:
Vehicle accidents have been occurring since the first rider fell off his horse, two chariots collided in the Rome streets, or the first motorized vehicles collided in an American street. It was not until August 11, 1997 that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration decided that “Crashes are not Accidents.” Motor vehicle crashes and injuries are predictable and preventable events. “Since we can identify the causes of crashes, we can take action to alter the effect, and avoid collisions. These events are not “acts of God” but predictable results of the laws of physics. The use of the term “Accident” promotes the concept that these events (that is, accidents) are outside of human influence or control. Since “Crashes Aren’t Accidents,” the NHTSA Traffic Safety Program Campaign of 1997 was initiated with the removal of “Accident” from the NHTSA vocabulary and any media or public NHTSA discussion of unintentional highway injuries. Instead of “accident” the use of terms such as “crash,” “collision,” “incident,” and “injury” was encouraged, since “Crashes Aren’t Accidents.” There is an article “‘Crashes Aren’t Accidents'” Campaign”by Pamela Anikeeff, NHTSA Now, V. 3, No. 11, August 11, 1997 pages 1-2 (pasted, below). What does it mean that crashes are not accidents? The answer to the questions: Why is an automobile crash is not an accident? and Why are vehicle Accidents not accidents? did not come until 2003…read the rest
Archived Page from NHTSA
The AP Stylebook
The AP has been a recurring source of the a-word in media report. At their annual convention, #ACES2016, they very recently inserted a new entry into their style guide with some (albeit weak) guidance to avoid the a-word, this new entry was added:
accident, crash – Generally acceptable for automobile and other collisions and wrecks. However, when negligence is claimed or proven, avoid accident, which can be read by some as a term exonerating the person responsible. In such cases, use crash, collision or other terms. See collide, collision.