Twitter activism results in policy change
The Menlo Park, CA Police Department quietly changed their traffic incident reporting policy to refer to them as “collisions” or “incidents.” Historically, the police department has referred to such incidents as “accidents” in their external reports.
Like many agencies around the United States, Menlo Park uses Nixle to notify residents of traffic disruptions and emergencies. The police department routinely sends “Nixle Alerts” warning commuters of traffic delays on area roads. Before Wednesday, the department referred to all such incidents as “accidents.”
Mike Sonn, who works in the San Mateo County Assessor’s Office as a mapping analyst, saw this alert of a traffic accident and asked if the Menlo Park PD could stop using “accident” language in their traffic reports.
He soon got in touch with the city of Menlo Park’s transportation manager Jesse Quiron. Quiron understands that language can shape how we think about traffic safety and agreed to talk with Menlo Park police chief Bob Jonsen.
Jonsen apparently was already amenable to the change. He quickly adopting a new policy for his department: traffic incidents would be more accurately described as collisions rather than accidents. Almost immediately, new Nixle alerts and press releases issued by the department used the new language.
The amazing thing about this process — almost all of this happened in the space of about five messages on Twitter.
Although policy implementation is uneven, the California Highway Patrol normally refers to traffic incidents as “incidents” or “collisions” in their initial responses and media reports. Some large police departments such as San Francisco and New York City have also abandoned “accident” in favor of more accurate descriptions in their initial traffic reports.
Livable streets advocates believe the common and automatic use of the word “accident” shifts responsibility away from those who caused a traffic collision. They seek to encourage police agencies to move away from the term “accident” in hopes of highlighting the dangers created by careless driving.