accident vs. incident

"7:13 PM 09/08/05 Incident

Freewy 123 Northbound after YY RD


1. What's the difference between a (traffic) incident and accident?

2. Can you call a car accident an incident?

3. Can you call an incident an accident?

4. Is it true that an accident is an incident but not vice versa?

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1. An incident is in general something that happens. A drive-by shooting on the freeway is an incident, but not an accident.
2. I believe police reports might call a car accident an incident, but it's not the most common way to refer to it.
3. I wouldn't call an incident an accident unless it were an accident!
4. Yes. I would say so, if you mean this in the sense that accidents are a subset of incidents.

"Incident" has an air of "police euphemism" over here.

Station announcers use it too. Your train may be delayed "due to an incident at Clapham Junction". This usually means that someone has jumped in front of a train.

(More explicit announcers will say "due to a person under a train at Clapham Junction", as if the person just happened to be there.)

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Does that kind of "incident" often happen in GB?
Fairly regularly. Suicides, mostly. If you've ever travelled on an English train, you'll understand why.

Yes, "police euphemism"! Here, too. That's a good way to explain it.
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I happened to read a medical definition related to the use of accident.

incontinence - unexpected sudden leaking or wetting accidents.

So, does that sound odd to you if I call incontinence an incidence?

Probably someone needs to give more detailed distinctions between an accident and incident if it does.



4. Yes. I would say so, if you mean this in the sense that accidents are a subset of incidents.

CJ's comments.
An accident is something that happens outside of intent.

An incident simply refers to something that has happened intentionally or not.

Wetting the bed is both an incident and [normally] an accident.

Throwing oneself in front of a train is an incident, not an accident.

Falling in front of a train is both an incident and an accident.

All accidents can be considered incidents, but all incidents cannot be considered accidents.

Incontinence is a medical condition, not an event. Therefore it can properly be called neither incidental nor accidental. But an instance of (an occurrence of) incontinence is both an incident (an event that occurred) and an accident (an unintentional event).

I understand the definition of an accident as something that happens outside of intent. However, I think a definition should also include the meaning of 'something that happens without an apparent cause'.

In Canada, as elsewhere, we speak of traffic accidents.However, an interesting, alternative approach is proposed by some people here. They maintain that we should not speak of traffic accidents because there is usually or perhaps always a reason for the accident. The word 'accident' is seen as 'accepting the incident' as something that could not have been prevented.

Best wishes, Clive
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