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How members of the public interpret the word accident
  1. D C Girasek
  1. Preventive Medicine and Biometrics, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, 4301 Jones Bridge Road, Room A2060, Bethesda, MD 20814, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Girasek, Dgirasek{at}usuhs.mil

Abstract

Objective To explore what the word accident means to the lay public. This interpretation is of interest because it has been raised by injury control professionals as one justification for discouraging use of that word.

Methods A national telephone survey of 943 adults in the United States was conducted. Respondents were selected at random from households whose phone numbers were generated using random digit dialing techniques. Bivariate and multivariate analyses were performed to determine if respondent characteristics predicted their interpretations of the word accident.

Results Eighty three per cent of respondents associated preventability with the word accident, and only 26% felt that accidents were controlled by fate. However, 71% thought that accidents could not be predicted, and 4% felt that accidents were done on purpose. Age, education, income, and race emerged as independent predictors of various accident interpretations.

Conclusions Only in the case of “unpredictability” does the public's interpretation of the word accident match many experts' expectations. The concept of “unintentionality” is what seems to be communicated most strongly by use of the word accident. Persistent attempts on the part of injury control professionals to eliminate this word from social discourse may result in unintended consequences, which are discussed.

  • accident
  • public
  • national survey
  • terminology

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