"We understand that many collisions occur without intent. But we object to the use of ‘accident’ as the standard term for all collisions, including those where the driver is convicted of causing the death, manslaughter, or even murder."
On the whole, I support this campaign about the language used when referring to collisions and the connotations that come from the word "accident". The word accident itself is not a legal word but in practice it’s often intended to refer to any situation when the actions of a person were not deliberate.
At the Cycle Show last year a few people came up to us and said that the Levenes Cycle "Accident Map" should be renamed "Collision Map". The reason our "Accident Map" is so-called, is because the data is derived from the Government, completely anonymised and stripped of anything that could reveal whether or not it was or wasn't an "accident". Another re-occurring conversation that came from this is that in the media, it's clear that the language used can sometimes imply blame. EG "the cyclist collided with a car...". Why not "the car collided with a cyclist". And why is it always a car and a cyclist that collide, not a car and a cycle? This very subtly takes away the responsibility of the driver of the car as he/she does not get a mention, as if cars drive themselves.
It still technically possible, though rare, to have an "accident" and nobody be to blame. Example 1 would be a heart attack/stroke to a driver who had not previously felt unwell and was therefore not doing anything wrong when setting off but who is struck down suddenly with the result that control of the vehicle is lost. That's an accident. Some might call it an Act of God.
Example 2 happened to a client of mine a few years ago, but thankfully on appeal it was overturned. The client was a passenger on a bus when the bus and a van collided. At the first hearing the judge found that neither driver had fallen below the standard required which is that of a reasonably competent driver. So that was deemed a pure accident. At a later hearing, a more senior judge was bemused as to how the previous judge could have possibly found that neither the bus driver nor the van driver were to blame, likening it to comments of the Magistrate in the story of Albert and the Lion. If you don’t know the story, basically young Albert goes to the zoo and is eaten by a Lion. The final two stanzas are:
The Magistrate gave his opinion
That no one was really to blame
And he said that he hoped the Ramsbottoms
Would have further sons to their name.
At that Mother got proper blazing,
'And thank you, sir, kindly,' said she.
'What waste all our lives raising children
To feed ruddy Lions? Not me!'
In the case of my client on the bus, the judge made it clear that “pure accidents” are very rare indeed and after hearing the evidence he concluded that the bus driver was driving without enough care and attention and was to blame in that particular instance.
My experience of this and other cases does make me think that we have to be careful with the language we use because “accident” is used far too often. The person at fault escapes blame and the victim gets the raw end of the deal as a result.
written by Levenes Cycling Solicitor, Tim Beasley
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