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BMJ bans “accidents”

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 02 June 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:1320

Accidents are not unpredictable

  1. Ronald M Davis, North American editor (,
  2. Barry Pless, editor, Injury Prevention (
  1. BMJ
  2. Montreal Children's Hospital, Canada QC H3H 1P3

    For many years safety officials and public health authorities have discouraged use of the word “accident” when it refers to injuries or the events that produce them. An accident is often understood to be unpredictable—a chance occurrence or an “act of God”—and therefore unavoidable. However, most injuries and their precipitating events are predictable and preventable.13 That is why the BMJ has decided to ban the word accident.

    In an editorial in the BMJ in 1993 Evans explained why “motor vehicle crash” is an appropriate expression but “motor vehicle accident” is not: “The word crash indicates in a simple factual way what is observed, while accident seems to suggest in addition a general explanation of why it occurred without any evidence to support such an explanation.”4 Evans also argued that “accident” is inappropriate in reference to medical errors (as in medical accidents) and that “its use in medical settings continues to mislead.”4

    Eight years later “accident” continues to be misused in medical circles—and on the pages of the BMJ. An online search for “accident” in the BMJ for the period January 1996 to December 2000 indicated that it has been used in the title or …

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