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Podcast Series: “Crash,” Not Accident

Hit and runs are all too frequent in the Philadelphia area.

Vinny Vella, a crime reporter for the Hartford Courant, used to work for the Philadelphia Daily News, and made it his mission to report upon and address hit and run crashes. He says that there is no crime worse than a fatal hit and run. Most crimes have a motive, but killing someone with your car and driving away, does not. Doing this, he says, shows a “callous disregard for human life.”

While working at the Daily News, he wrote many stories about fatal hit and runs, following up, trying to put a face to the victims.

Randy LoBasso, the usual host of the podcast, is also a former journalist and a professor of journalism. He believes that at introduction of cars and car insurance that the term “accident”, got double meaning. An accident by definition is something unintentional.

With the way that cars have been introduced to our society, the definition has changed to whenever car hit each other or something else, it is also an accident. We do not know if these are always unintentional or if someone is in fact at fault. For example, if someone drops a dinner plate or slips on ice, it is a blameless act or an accident. But when someone gets hit by a car or when a crash occurs, it is not blameless, someone is at fault.

There is something called “No fault” insurance, which leads to this bad definition, or double meaning. But it should understood that someone is always to blame when they injure someone else, especially with their car.

There is a long history of why we use accident to describe car crashes. LoBasso explained that before the labor movement in the US, when a worker was injured in unsafe conditions the factory owners would call it an accident to shift blame onto someone else.

When there are unsafe conditions, no one wanted to be blamed because that could have resulted in the conditions having to be changed, and that was difficult. So when it comes to changing conditions in the street, it is easier to cast happened because of those conditions on being an accident, rather than it being a problem of the conditions and of the person who is responsible of the crash.

This all comes down to how spaces are made and the positions of power within those spaces. Recently the Associated Press amended its style guide to not to say accident in cases where the driver may be found at fault. Vella agrees that reporters need to be careful when writing about the news.

He says that many people will call it an accident, because they didn’t mean to do it, and if it’s an accident it wasn’t intentional. Reporters and editors will try to underscore that by calling whatever happened a crash, not an accident.

However, hit and runs, should never be called “accidents.” The crashes themselves should not be happening and could be prevented with better street design and better enforcement. But the part that is definitely not an accident, is the run. If someone is too afraid to check on or help the person they have just hit with your car, they should not be driving.

The results of the crashes show a need for a more connected and fully protected bike infrastructure, the city needs to prioritize safety now and the city also needs Vision Zero plan.

*This podcast was hosted by Travis Southard, a communications intern for BCGP

-Marina Stuart

Topics: Crash, Featured, Vision Zero

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