When you crash and it is not an accident

A truck collided with a KBS bus in Kicukiro in June 2016. Sam Ngendahimana.

The Longman dictionary defines an accident as “an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.

“An accident is also an event that happens by “chance or which is without apparent or deliberate cause”.

An “accident” is, by definition, unintentional. The word also suggests something of the unforeseen – an event that couldn’t have been anticipated, for which no one can be blamed.

Meaning, therefore, to be an accident, an occurrence must be unexpected. In a legal sense, it must also be the result of no one’s fault or negligence. It is not an accident, in other words, when, for example, a drunk driver’s car hits another vehicle; it’s a crash! Though, two words are often used interchangeably.

Many believe that saying “accident” makes it wrongly appear as though crashes are inevitable rather than preventable. In truth, the majority of auto fatalities and injuries could be prevented if it were not for drink-driving, distracted driving, poor road conditions, speeding or negligence by a motorist.

Since we can identify the causes of crashes, we can take action to alter the effect and avoid collisions. Some say these are not Acts of God but predictable results of the laws of physics, not chance and therefore can be prevented.

The continued erroneous use of the verbiage in our ‘vehicular code’ suggests that collisions could not be foreseen and that no one is to blame for a victim’s death or injury – a reason that is dis-empowering many to change the way people talk and think about crashes.

Senior Superintendent of Police, Jean Marie Ndushabandi, the traffic and road safety department of police spokesperson, explains, “we shouldn’t right away assume that there’s no one to blame”.

“However, if we stopped using that word, as individuals, we shall start asking ourselves about these crashes?” How did they happen? Who was to blame? An erratic driver, faulty vehicle or perpetually dangerous intersection?

Police traffic accident investigations often record eye-witness and accounts from drivers’ involved in crashes (though the testimony of the other driver may include falsehoods), will be disproved by the nature of the injuries, such as his or her driving speed or the angle of the collision.

According to SSP Ndushabandi the aims can be to identify if the event is intentional or unintentional and to also know if the event was reasonably avoidable verses non-preventable.

He says: “Proving negligence informs our road safety awareness programmes”.

Public education

Rwanda National Police’s leadership believes that more efforts are needed in this awareness campaign to significantly reduce accidents, but common revelations after thorough police accident investigations reports show car crashes are not entirely ‘accidents’ but carelessness or abuse of traffic regulations sometimes with impunity.

To reverse such occurrences, the Government of Rwanda in April launched a 52-week nationwide road safety campaign. The campaign aims to enlist passenger involvement in the manner by which they are being transported.

Activities being conducted include the respect of rules, such as the use of the seat belts, anti-impaired driving respecting for pedestrians and cyclists rights among others.

The campaign action plans also comprise anti-drunk driving and anti-speeding enforcement and publicity campaigns through a series of briefings and presentation on road safety being held countrywide through induction courses for drivers’ and a series of road safety broadcasts sent out on regular basis for example; ambient radio messages convincing people to refrain from hazardous behaviours and adopting safe ones instead.

Though it is still premature to have an extensive evaluation of the impact, so far, their implementation is work in a positive direction.

In general, the drink enforcement and publicity campaigns results are robust and show they are effective in reducing serious crashes.

“Regarding the benefits of reducing the illegal Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit, campaigns with a drink-driving theme were associated with greater accident reductions,” Ndushabandi said.


He avers that, to be a safe driver, one must drive defensively because there are people who don’t drive carefully themselves, it will reduce the likelihood of a car accident their your fault”.

The police officer says when a car owner procrastinates on motor vehicle inspection certification one is inviting accidents and: “When you accelerated beyond the required speed limit you are inviting a crash”.

He cautions drivers against fleeing an accident scene, which is against the law.

“They must remain at the scene until law enforcement arrives,” he says.