Change Philly’s ‘Accident Investigation Division’ to ‘Crash Investigation Division’

by | August 2, 2016 | Crash, Featured | 1 comment



It’s time the City of Philadelphia Police Department change the name of the Accident Investigation Division to the Crash Investigation Division.

The Accident Investigation Division is the PPD agency dedicated to investigating traffic crashes in Philadelphia. While the unit’s work is admirable, the name of the unit reflects an outdated thinking on traffic violence.

The term ‘accident’ assumes no one is at fault. In fact, nearly all crashes in the U.S. stem from driver behavior that can be fixed. Behavior like drinking, distractions, speed and other risky activity leads to crashes about 94 percent of the time, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“When you use the word accident, its like, God made it happen,” noted Dr. Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in a recent New York Times article on the subject. “In our society, “language can be everything.”

We need to translate this national discussion on the importance of using appropriate language to Philadelphia.

We need to change the widespread apathy toward the issue as Dr. Rosekind suggests. “Changing the semantics is meant to shake people, particularly policy makers, out of the implicit nobody’s-fault attitude that the word “accident” conveys,” he said.

We agree completely. And so do 28 other state departments of transportation who have been moving away from the term “accident.”

On July 16, 1997, The National Safety Council’s Board of Directors passed a motion to eliminate the word ACCIDENT and replace it with the word CRASH.

In response, the New Jersey the Traffic Officers Association, New Jersey Department of Transportation and the NJ Division of Highway Traffic Safety, adapted the new lexicon and issued a revised Police Guide for Preparing Reports of Motor Vehicle Crashes in 2004, which incorporates the new terminology.

The New York City Police Department also changed their policy in March of 2013. They increased the size of the department and renamed the department the COLLISION INVESTIGATION SQUAD.

In making the change, former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said, “In the past, the term ‘accident’ has sometimes given the inaccurate impression of connotation that there is no fault of liability associated with a specific event.”

A Philadelphia Vision Zero Task Force will be required to study the causes of the 11,000 crashes and 100 deaths that occur annually and strive to cut those numbers in half by 2020.

We think an important part of getting to public involved is to change the narrative in anyway we can. Therefore, we believe it would be useful for you to change the name of the ACCIDENT Investigative Division to CRASH in support of Mayor Kenney’s goals.

Using the appropriate language will show commitment and resolve and get people focused on the fact that there are too many crashes occurring on our streets and we all need to participate in slowing down and reducing that number.

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1 Comment
  1. John Baxter

    I think I can support this as driving technique and other actions cause most crashes. Let’s just remember that we called them accidents for a long time because of the random aspect. You can make a mistake 9 or 10 times and live, and they the odds catch up with you on the 10th or 11th. Educating people about that fact will help induce them to behave more safely.
    I do, however, think the Coalition would be really smart to focus much less on speed. The statistics make it quite clear that speed is actually at least third in line when it comes to pedestrian injuries and deaths, and that virtually all pedestrian deaths occur because of a contributory action on the part of the pedestrian in combination with the poor actions of a driver with a history. Speed is not the only one of those poor driving actions. Furthermore, speed is the one positive aspect of autos, and focusing on slowing everyone down tends to negatively affect the quality of life when driving. This does not mean we should not work hard to curtail excessive speed; but it also means we need to avoid a narrow focus and instead should take a shotgun approach, working from all angles and correcting all the deficiencies in the system. It would be better to allow traffic to continue to operate at 30-35 mph on a major boulevard and solve crashes with things like better lighting, timers on walk lights, separating the green cycle from the crossing light, and preventing jay walking than to force all cars to drive 25 and then accept many less severe pedestrian crashes. An excessive focus on speed is not only statistically indefensible, it is far more likely to result in motorist pushback. I write this having been converted to a motorist who strongly supports bike lanes and many of the other provisions Vision Zero/Complete streets advocates want. I say, follow the science!


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