Rising Canadian squash star Adrian Dudzicki was murdered yesterday by Aleksey Aleksev, while riding his bicycle to practice in Toronto. The weapon was a 1992 BMW 325; Aleksev has been charged with dangerous driving causing death and criminal negligence causing death.
Yet Canada's most respected newspaper, the Globe and Mail, has the headline Star squash player killed in accident while cycling in Toronto and the copy starts:
One of Canada’s top squash players has died after being hit by a car while cycling in Toronto.
Squash Canada confirmed in a release that Ottawa’s Adrian Dudzicki died from injuries sustained in an accident on Wednesday when a vehicle struck him as he rode his bicycle to the National Squash Academy.
Interesting language. If a driver is charged with criminal negligence causing death, is it an "accident"? Did the BMW kill Adrian or did Aleksey Aleksev?
"Words are powerful. They shape the way we see the world around us."
This is not the first time this issue has come up. Aaron Naparstek wrote about it in an article titled It's time to change the way we talk about motor vehicle violence. A long quote:
A few years ago, the New York Times published a five-sentence brief about a man who “intentionally ran over five people” with an SUV after a fight in North Bellmore, Long Island. The driver, the Times reported, “fled the scene of the accident.” The police later located the vehicle that “they believed was involved in the accident.” One of the victims was in critical condition.
Ho hum. News briefs about the previous day’s car crashes are as routine as box scores and the weather forecast. Yet, in this case, the Times’ (and, presumably, the Nassau County cops’) choice of one particular word stood out: If a man intentionally ran over five people, how could that possibly be considered an accident? If, instead of car keys, the man had picked up a gun and shot five people, would the press and police have called that an “accident” too? No. They’d have called it “attempted homicide.” Yet, for some reason when the weapon is a car, when the violence on our streets is done with a motor vehicle, it’s always just an “accident.”
Words are powerful. They shape the way we see the world around us.
The bicycle lawyer, Bob Mionske, disagrees.
Because somebody is usually at fault in an accident, many cyclists prefer to call accidents “crashes” or “collisions,” instead of “accidents,” because they believe that the word “accident” means that nobody is to blame. In fact, “accident” simply means that the crash wasn’t the result of an intentional act-- it wasn’t done “on purpose.” Even so, although it is “an accident,” the crash is almost always the result of somebody’s negligence.
I am with Aaron Naparstek on this one. "It was an accident" implies that it couldn't be helped. It lets the City off the hook for unsafe cycling infrastructure. It sounds less nasty than manslaughter. It suggests that Adrian might just have been a poor guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. Aaron concludes, discussing events in New York:
Driver negligence is the number one cause of crashes, and it’s no big surprise—or accident—when negligent driving hurts and kills people on crowded city streets. In fact, our legal system has a word for this type of unintentional killing: “Manslaughter.”... If it’s true that small changes in language can have a big impact on public policy, then the easiest change is simply this: Stop calling car crashes “accidents.”