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May 29, 2008


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Evan Downing

Could not agree more. There is no 'accident', it's a CAUSED OCCURRENCE!

Leslie Thorpe

I would agree. I was a student of yours at Ryerson. You taught us, that the computer programs of the time fell into certain, distinguishable, categories. In the same way, these "accidents" are also able to be so classified. I have always stressed to my children that "accidents" are a result of being inattentive or pre-occupied. However, one of my children was hit by a drunk driver and the other was hit in a school parking lot. The good news was , however, neither was in the car at the time.No matter how good the training of the driver, one can not always predict the actions of others, especially when the car is parked.

Sez Jim: Wow! Another blast from the past. First, I'm glad neither of your kids was injured. Car crashes may not be totally predictable, but neither are they "accidental", at least not in my understanding of that word! To me, calling an incident "accidental" absolves all participants of responsibility. Now, SOME participants may be guilt-free, but somebody somewhere has to be called to account.

D. Lord

As a traffic safety expert, I have a different view about the use of the term “accident.” The term indeed refers to “randomness” and crashes are in fact random events. If they were not random, they would be referred to as deterministic, which means that we should be able to know when a crash will occur with certainty*. Even though we know important risk factors associated with crashes, nobody can determine with perfect knowledge when a crash will occur (say tomorrow at 4 pm on the Gardiner at mile point X involving vehicles Y and W).

By using the term “accident,” people (like me) understand that we not referring to the crash as an act of God, but for each event, there are contributing factors that lead to the event. However, each crash in itself is a random event. This is why we are using statistical models to analyze these random events. In fact, the main assumption for these models relies on the fact that observations need to be random and independent events.

*As detailed in an NHTSA study published about two years ago, more than 90% of the crashes investigated using in-vehicle monitoring devices were attributed to driver distraction. Thus, when and where drivers will be distracted cannot be known with certainty.

Sez Jim: I guess it depends on whether you look at the A-Word from a statistical/mathematical perspective, or a semantic perspective. As an engineer and a journalist, I like to think I can see if from either side. And I think most people use the A-word in the sense of not assigning responsibility, which is why most (!) traffic safety experts prefer not to use it.

Andrew Metcalfe

I can't help but notice that in the very post that precedes this, you mention the tragic tale of your would be sister, who was run down in what would seemingly be an accident - something that you yourself describe as "just a tragic thing", one where "No-one [is] at fault". That sounds suspiciously like an accident.


Yes, it comes pretty close. But sadly, the fault was with her - she ran out between parked cars. So again, the involvement of the truck driver was clearly accidental, and her death was far from planned or intentional, hence accidental in that sense. But still, something wrong was done, with tragic consequences.


I agree that there is no such thing as an accident...there is always someone or something at fault.

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