What is the Difference in Meaning Between a Crash and an Accident?

If you have been involved in a vehicle collision, you might wonder whether it was legally considered a crash or an accident. While an accident is legally defined as an unfortunate event, usually the result of carelessness, a crash is defined as something breaking due to a collision. Where the law is concerned, most “accidents” are actually considered crashes, and are deemed the fault of one person. 

Definition of a Car Crash

A car crash is any situation where a car literally crashes or collides into something. Typically something is damaged as a result, such as another car or other property. 

Crash Examples

There are different types of crashes, or collisions, defined by where one vehicle impacted the other. 

  1. Rear end collision: An accident where one vehicle collides with the back of another. 
  2. T-bone or side impact collision: An accident where one vehicle crashes into the side of another, often referred to as a T-bone because of the T shape it creates.
  3. Head-on collision: As the name suggests, an accident where one vehicle crashes into the head, or front, of another straight on. 
  4. Bicycle collision: An accident between a car and a bicycle. These accidents often occur in intersections, crosswalks, turning lanes, and parking lots. 
  5. Pedestrian collision: Similar to a bicycle collision, an accident when a car hits a pedestrian, typically in a crosswalk or under similar circumstances as a bicycle collision. 
  6. Motorcycle collision: This can take the same forms listed above, such as rear end or head on, but it involves a car and a motorcycle. 

Definition of a Car Accident

A car accident is any situation involving a car crash that is not intentional. 

Accident Examples

There are different types of accidents all of which can take the same form as any of the crash examples listed above:

  1. Accidents with other cars
  2. Accidents with motorcycles
  3. Accidents with bicycles
  4. Accidents with pedestrians 

The Main Difference Between a Crash and an Accident

Legally, the main difference between a crash and accident is that in an accident, the collision was not done on purpose. Criminal charges relative to a crash are associated with situations where one person intentionally plans to hurt another or damage their property. In contrast, an accident occurs because of negligence–someone wasn’t paying attention or doing what they were supposed to maintain the safety of their vehicle or others around their vehicle. 

In all car collisions, even if it was not on purpose and was an accident, it is still considered a crash and there is still someone deemed at fault. 

What to Do After an Accident or Crash: A Step-by-Step Checklist

After a car accident or crash there are several key steps you must take:

Step 1: Call 911. 

You must phone the police to document the collision, and have police and medical professionals attend the scene. This should occur whether there are other vehicles involved or the collision only involves your vehicle.

Step 2: Collect Evidence.

If possible, once you are capable you need to gather evidence. As soon as possible, you should take the time to get as much evidence as you can. This not only includes any other drivers or pedestrians involved, but their contact information as well as their insurance information. If you were involved in an accident with another car and there were passengers in that car, you should collect passenger information as well. If you have a working phone, and you are not immediately taken away from the scene due to injuries, you can use your phone to take pictures or videos of the scene. This will help you to gather information about:

  • your injuries, 
  • damage to vehicles involved, 
  • exactly where the accident took place, 
  • what was going on around you when the collision took place, 
  • any potential witnesses, 
  • as well as potential sources of security camera footage.
Also read:How Long After a Hit and Run Accident Can You Be Charged?

A hit and run is where a driver is involved in a collision accident and leaves the scene without offering help or contact information....

Step 3: Contact Your Insurance.

Once you have spoken with the police and gathered evidence, you will need to speak with your insurance provider. Be sure to call them immediately and let them know that the accident took place. This will help start the process of receiving compensation, especially if, after the fact, you have to work with an attorney.

Step 4: Get Medical Help.

Be sure to seek medical attention as soon as the police give you the all clear to leave the scene. Do not put this off, or think about doing it a few days later. You need to visit a doctor immediately and have any or all injuries documented. With different types of accidents, some injuries you sustained may be more physically visible than others. Those that are not immediately visible can take weeks or months to manifest which is why you need to have a thorough examination immediately after the accident and then subsequent examinations at different intervals after the accident so that your doctor can monitor any progressive injuries.

Step 5: Consider an Attorney.

Finally, consider speaking with an attorney sooner rather than later. With any collisions like these, you may want an attorney to help you to immediately start gathering and organizing information, keeping records, and reaching out to all of the other parties involved on your behalf. There is a statute of limitations on car accident claims for compensation which is why getting organized immediately after the collision can be very useful down the line.

Do you need legal assistance?Find the right lawyer in your area.

Compensation after a crash vs. accident

Even if it was an accident, every state has laws regarding which driver or person is at fault for the injury or car wreck from car collisions. Once a motor vehicle crash has occurred, legal relief can be sought, called compensation. Compensation usually comes from the careless drivers, as a form of legal punishment for their driving, to the other drivers or people involved, the victims. 

Some states work with a percentage system, which seeks to determine the proportion “at fault” each driver was for the collision. 

For example: In the state of Texas, there is a percentage system for determining fault. If Driver A was checking their texts casually, while going through a green light in an intersection, and Driver B was making a right on red without paying attention, the courts might find that Driver A is 10% at fault because had they not been checking their phone they would have been able to brake, but Driver B is 90% at fault for their inattentive right on a red light. This means Driver B has to pay for 90% of the damages to the car of Driver A and 90% of Driver A’s medical problems that stemmed from the collision. 

Other states determine which party is “at fault” and make that driver pay for all compensation.

For example: In California, there is a fault based system. Using the example above, the courts might determine that Driver B is more at fault, and therefore entirely to blame for the accident. So, Driver B would have to pay for 100% of the damages to Driver A. 

Do I need an attorney after a crash or accident?

It is highly recommended that you consider speaking with an attorney after a vehicle collision, even if it is deemed an accident. Just because you were involved in a crash or accident doesn’t mean that you should be awarded compensation. If no injuries were sustained and your insurance will cover the minor damages, there would be no reason to pursue further damages or court cases against the other party. 

  • However, if the other party doesn’t have insurance, they may not be able to pay for all of the damages on their own or they may refuse to do so. If this is the case, an attorney can help you to follow through with compensation.
  • If you have already reached out to the insurance company for the other driver and they are refusing to give you the compensation you deserve for the injuries or damages sustained, you can work with an attorney who will try to negotiate on your behalf.

Do I go to court for a car accident?

You do not automatically go to court after an accident. Most of the time, an accident is the result of neglecting basic traffic laws, like running a stop sign or red light or speeding. These are considered traffic violations, not criminal charges. However, there are instances where the case might go to court. Court is where a collision case progresses IF the insurance won’t pay, IF the other driver won’t pay, or IF the accident involved criminal charges. 

Criminal charges after a collision can take place in the following scenarios:  

  • If the accident was a fatal accident and the other party died as a result of your actions, even if it was not intentional. 
  • If the accident was the result of drinking and driving or being under the influence of drugs, something police would note in their report. 

Statute of limitations: accidents and crashes

The statute of limitations for collision victims to work with a personal injury attorney and seek compensation for their damages depends on the state in which the injury occurred. In most cases, the statute of limitations for a vehicle collision is about 2 years. This means that collision victims, or the families of fatal collisions, have to gather evidence about the collisions and present it to the opposing insurance and/or courts within that time frame in order to receive compensation.


Overall, consider reaching out to an attorney after an accident or crash, even if you do not need to go to court. A lawyer will ensure that you have collected all the necessary information outlined in the steps above. Finally, check the statute of limitations in your state and determine  if your state is one that uses a percentage system for fault. 

Article by Megan Thompson

Megan Thompson is a legal writer at Lawrina. Megan writes about different law practice areas, legal innovations, and shares her knowledge about her legal practice. As a graduate of the American University's Washington College of Law she is an expert of law in Lawrina's team and has a slight editing touch to all content that is published on the website.

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