The evidence that Elizabeth Warren has a bot programmed to run her Twitter account in the voice of an extremely online millennial keeps growing.
On Monday, for instance, the candidate tweeted: "Traffic violence kills thousands and injures even more Americans every year. On World Day of Remembrance for Traffic Crash Victims, I'm sending my love to the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones. It's time to #EndTrafficViolence."
Traffic violence kills thousands and injures even more Americans every year. On World Day of Remembrance for Traffic Crash Victims, I'm sending my love to the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones. It's time to #EndTrafficViolence.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) November 17, 2019
For a moment, this tweet reminded me of someone suffering from memory issues. Perhaps she forgot the word "accident" and her brain settled on "violence" instead. But, it turns out, that the term "traffic violence" was not made up by whoever or whatever runs the candidate's Twitter.
Apparently there's been an effort to rebrand car accidents as "traffic violence" going back at least a few years.
The first reference I was able to find for the term "traffic violence" comes from a 2013 post on StreetsBlog, a site that advocates for safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists. That post, by Angie Schmitt, is called, "It’s Time for the AP to Nix the Term 'Accident' to Describe Car Collisions." Schmitt argues that the term "accident" misrepresents what happens in most car collisions: "Words matter, and the way car crashes are framed has a powerful effect on how they are perceived. If thousands of preventable traffic injuries and deaths per year are described as accidental, why support thorough investigations to uncover causal factors and determine potential solutions?"
She's got a point. Human error causes an estimated 94 percent of car crashes, and when we label these "accidents," we're acting as though they can't be prevented. They just happen; there's nothing that can be done to stop them.
What's more, the term "traffic violence" is meant to de-sanitize the reality of vehicular crashes, says Tom Fucoloro of Seattle Bike Blog. To him, Warren's tweet shows that she really gets it. "What this signals to me is that someone in her campaign is aware of Vision Zero [an international campaign to end traffic fatalities] and that we need a national intervention to address this problem," he said.
This was echoed by Roger Rudick, a writer for Streetsblog San Francisco, who told me that even crashes than aren't caused by human error are often due to poor design and planning. "The word 'accident' eliminates blame," Rudick said. "Do crashes happen that are truly accidental? Yes, but even in those cases [if] you look at the way roads are designed, there's usually a reason for it."
Still, while I am persuaded that the term "accident" is a misnomer—and one that those in criminal justice, law, insurance, and the media should probably avoid—I'm not so sure using the term "traffic violence" will benefit Elizabeth Warren. Liberals are already accused of misapplying the term "violence" to everything from speech to getting someone's pronoun wrong. Calling car crashes "traffic violence" may signal to those in the know that Warren gets it. The question is, what does it signal to everyone else?