Why does IrishCycle.com use the word ‘collision’ when describing crashes?

Due to readers asking related questions, I’ve previously covered how IrishCycle.com strives to follow the Media Reporting Guidelines for Road Collisions.

The guidelines were formed using feedback from policing and road safety experts, and were formed in the UK but are largely applicable to Ireland.

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But some readers continue to question the use of the word “collision” to describe a crash between a person cycling a bike and a motorist driving a vehicle or even between a person cycling a bicycle and a person on foot. Indeed, a collision can also be used to describe a “single vehicle collision”, where a motorist or cyclist crashes with no other road user involved.

It’s a repeated issue, so, it’s worth covering it here.

As per the previous more general article on reporting road traffic incidents, everything IrishCycle does includes looking at the available information, journalistic ethics, and the confines of law, including defamation and not wanting to interfere with possible or on-going legal action, criminal or civil.

The words ‘collision’ or ‘crash’ has gained prominence in the last few years as an alternative to ‘accident’ which is something that should be associated with spilling milk, not in matters where someone is injured or killed.

The word ‘accident’ is widely seen by safety experts as saying ‘woops” and implying the incident wasn’t avoidable by the actions of one road user or the other or both or even the road authority due to issues from maintenance or the design of roads.

The reporting guidelines outlines:

“Avoid use of the word ‘accident’ until the facts of a collision are known. Most collisions are predictable and before an enquiry or court case the full facts are unlikely to be known. It is particularly important to avoid the word when someone has been charged with driving offences. Using ‘crash’ or ‘collision’ instead leaves the question of who or what is to blame open, pending further details.”

Media Reporting Guidelines for Road Collisions

It’s been suggested by at least one reader that the emergence of the word collision is maybe even from the motoring industry. It’s quite the opposite. Is it to replace the term accident which was heavily promoted by the car industry.

In an article titled “Biden’s Infrastructure Bill Nixes The Auto Industry Propaganda Term ‘Car Accident‘”, Elizabeth Blackstock motoring journalist and editor of Jalopnik.com explains:

“The auto industry also did something genius. It created The National Automobile Chamber of Commerce, which was part of and later became the Automobile Manufacturers Association, and it provided a very crucial service. Because it knew the most about cars, it would write your newspaper articles for you. Reporters just had to send in vague details of a traffic collision, and the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce would spin it into an art form that shifted the blame from the cars and their drivers by referring to collisions as ‘accidents.’ Those articles were then published in newspapers around America.”

— Elizabeth Blackstock, editor of Jalopnik.com

Blackstock called the move by Biden to replace the word accident as a “small linguistic change, but it’s kind of a big deal”. She said that the term accidents was “very strategically adopted by the automotive industry to soften hearts against the danger of the automobile.”

The US using crash instead of accident might bring up the question of why collision and not crash?

IrishCycle.com has used ‘crash’ in a few headlines in the second half of this year and I keep an open mind about its use. Sometimes it can feel like an Americanism because of its wider use there, but that’s not a reason to avoid it.

Collision vs collided is also an important distinction — the former is more neutral and the latter is more descriptive. “Collided with…” should be avoided unless the details are known or if it’s coming from the Gardaí who should be aware of the details.

And, yes, there have been cases where cyclists have collided with cars and it’s not the other way around. IrishCycle.com has to take care even if it turns out something is exactly how it seems, sometimes it could be something not expected. There are cases that I’m thinking of but I don’t want to bring them up given that there are sensitives around respecting that there are families involved who could still be grieving.

It’s said by some readers that the phrase collisions suggests that what are colliding are similarly sized. I’m really unsure of where that idea is coming from — an asteroid flying into the sun is a type of collision.

The use of the word collision to describe road incidents is accurate both in terms of English dictionary and scientific definitions.

The Google definition of collision is provided by Oxford Languages / Oxford University Press, who are the publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary. The main entry includes:

“an instance of one moving object or person striking violently against another”

Oxford Languages / Oxford University Press via Google

Oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com — also published by the Oxford University Press — for example includes a definition with multiple descriptions including a “collision with somebody/something Stewart was injured in a collision with another player”, and “in collision with somebody/something”.

While the Cambridge English Dictionary has an entry which includes “a cyclist was in a collision with a bus”.

I will of course continue to try to engage with readers as best and as open as possible but I’m hoping this article might better explain details which might be lost in a comment on social media or in an email on a busy day. And, of course, strive for fair and balanced reporting.

Thanks for reading,

Cian Ginty

Editor, IrishCycle.com

3 comments

  1. We have a big problem with media in Ireland refusing to comply with the aforementioned guidelines!
    I prefer the term ‘impact’ to describe these on-road events leading to death, injury and property damage.
    For example, we know of cases where a bike users has collided with a stationary object such as a parked vehicle of utility or traffic sign pole.

    Reply
    • Forgot to finish the para above.
      So to come off your bike/scooter and be injured/killed you don’t have to collide with a moving object such as a van, bus, car, HGV, etc. It can happen as a result of skidding on a slippery inspection cover, tram track or thermoplastic road marking or impacting with a traffic signpost, kerb or a cat dashing out in front of you.

      Reply
  2. Thank you for using the word collision. That is exactly what you are describing. It is important to describe what happened without apportioning blame, especially when you don’t have the full facts. Unfortunately some people want to use more emotive words to push a hidden agenda.

    Reply

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