I think I understand the difference between “error” and “mistake”, but today I saw this article about Google’s self-driving cars that has the following sentence:

A lot of this won’t be a surprise, especially if you already know that driver error causes 94% of crashes.

(Here “driver” refers to a person who drives a car, not to a part of computer software.)

On the one hand, it looks like the author is a native speaker. But on the other hand, my intuition and understanding of English tells me that it is incorrect to use “error” there, isn’t it?

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    No driver error causes 94% of accidents is idiomatic. One definitely wouldn't say driver mistake causes 94%.... Mistake tends to be used for individual instances, but it is rarely used for driving matters. e.g. It was a mistake to suggest they bring their dog with them for the evening. – WS2 May 12 '15 at 17:43

The word error, in the statement that “driver error causes 94% of crashes,” is being used as a mass noun. Though error and mistake are otherwise nearly synonymous, only the former has a mass-noun sense, numbered 2.a in the online Merriam-Webster entry:

2 a : the quality or state of erring.

Thus error is indeed the correct choice, between the two, for this context.


It is correct.

The speaker means that 94% of crashes happens because of bad judgement/wrong action/misconception on the part of the driver.

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