Every time I hear a traffic announcement my blood starts to boil. I keep having to repeat the same mantra so often that I don’t actually hear where the latest catastrophe has occurred.
What sets off that feeling of helpless frustration? Accident.
Apart from the fact that all traffic announcers from the BBC (who should know better) to the local part time volunteers have little time to get the information into some semblance of order, use the same word, which isn’t a euphemism but a misnomer, they all miss the point that should be staring them in the face. They are describing a crash, smash, bash, bump or any number of single syllable words using a misnomer that has three syllables therefore taking longer to report the traffic than necessary.
I listened to a recent announcement and counted twenty two times when this three syllable word could have been replaced with a single syllable and the announcer, Lynn Bowles, would have had time to add another incident to her limited list. As Lynn reports for the whole of the UK I don’t expect her to have the time to get in every incident across the country but being able to add one more would help her to create a fuller and more concise report.
As well as the waste of time it only takes a little thought to see how wrong the word accident is when used for traffic reports. The police used to call smashes RTA’s, shorthand for road traffic accident, but they no longer use the term preferring to use a more correct term – incident – and still a better shorthand would be crash.
The real problem with using accident is that is doesn’t begin to tell the story, merely hiding it in plain view and it has the added effect of training our brains into thinking that what occurred was accidental. What really happened was caused by words that begin with an i. Inexperience, ineptitude, idiocy and any number of words which tell a better story than accidental occurrence.
Incompetence, inability, incapability, inexpert, inadequate training, insane, imbecilic, and this is not an exhaustive list but the reasons why one driver, note here; not the car, crashes into another have nothing whatsoever to do with accident, or accidental which all suggest the driver was not at fault. If a crash is not down to driver error why do the police have to close major roads to investigate for days at a time to determine who they take to court?
Words have an enormous power to influence the way we view things and using the word accident affects how we see a crash in a very bad way, it makes it all seem fluffy and non-serious rather than an indication of the real problem behind collisions. Even formula one commentators use the word accident when they already know which driver is at fault for a crash.
Here is a small exercise: Try using the word(s) accident or accidental in a sentence to describe what happened.
Example: I accidentally believed I was a reincarnation of Ayrton Senna and tried to manoeuvre the hairpin bend at 95mph in my Peugeot 106.
Example: I accidentally ignored the bus stopping to pick up passengers and ploughed into the back of it.
Example: I had an accident when my inept right foot pressed the throttle rather than the brake.
Take it from here and invent your own excuses for lack of ability or experience or just plain idiocy.
Using totally the incorrect word for bad or poor driving hides the fact that people make mistakes for any number of reasons from a momentary lack of attention to outright insanity and that driver training should be an ongoing and constantly updated priority if we are ever going to have a day when traffic announcers can just put their feet up.