The way National Highways uses the term ‘accident’ could be changed, in response to requests from families of victims of road traffic collisions, road safety groups and MPs.

Pressure has grown on the government-owned company to stop using the word to describe road traffic incidents, especially those that lead to fatalities. ‘Accident’ is the most widely used term, frequently heard in news reports and visible on overhead motorway gantries to alert drivers. National Highways have said that for any change to collision messaging to take place, legislation would have to change and permission from the Department for Transport would be required.

But National Highways have confirmed that it is testing alternative terminology, such as ‘Incident, Collision and Crash’ alongside ‘Accident’, and will consult with road users.

Road safety groups and motoring organisations have campaigned for a different term to be used, arguing that ‘accident’ implies a degree of unavoidability, when in many cases collisions have been caused by human error and may have been prevented.

“Most ‘accidents’ are not accidents because they could have been avoided by better driving or paying better attention to the conditions”, said Edmund King, president of the AA. “These are incidents, collisions, or crashes rather than accidents. We are pleased to see National Highways are considering alternatives because calling every crash an ‘accident’ almost implies that the crash was inevitable. In most cases, it is not.”

Nick Simmons, CEO of RoadPeace, the national charity for road crash victims, which has led a long-term ‘Crash Not Accident’ campaign on behalf of its members, said: “We are delighted to learn that National Highways has accepted the need to replace the word 'accident' with a more neutral and appropriate alternative on its variable messaging signs.

“Changing language is vital to changing attitudes, and we thank National Highways for listening to our calls for reform and for playing its part in helping to change public perception around road harm,” said Simmons.

If adopted, new terminology could be in use within the traffic management system of National Highways by the summer of 2025.