Fatalities down, but vehicle crashes cost US $871bn

By: Brad Gardner

The number of fatalities from vehicle crashes in the US has dropped markedly since 2000, but the cost of crashes has hit $871 billion.

Fatalities down, but vehicle crashes cost US $871bn
Vehicle crashes cost the United States $871 billion in 2010.

The cost of vehicle crashes to the United States has hit $871 billion, but the introduction of new technologies has helped drive down fatality rates in recent times.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has tallied the social and economic costs of fatal crashes to the US for the year 2010 – the first time the agency has examined the issue since 2002. 

It found that social costs (68 per cent) accounted for the majority of the $871 billion figure, with the economic cost peaking at $277 billion. 

The report says there were 32,999 people killed in vehicle crashes in 2010, 3.9 million non-fatal injuries and 24 million damaged vehicles.

While high, the number of fatalities has declined by 21 per cent since 2000.

"These declines reflect significant safety improvements in the on-road vehicle fleet. Since 2000 a number of significant technological safety improvements have been phased in to the vehicle fleet," the NHTSA says. 

It lists advanced air bags, better impact protection, tyre pressure monitoring systems, interior padding, antilock braking systems and electronic stability control as measures that have all contributed to a drop in the fatality rate. 

"Seat belt use has also increased over this decade, rising from 73 percent in 2000 to 85 percent in 2010, due in part to enforcement of primary belt use laws and to public education programs that educate drivers to the importance of belt use," the NHTSA says.

The $277 billion that made up the economic impact included the cost to society of each fatality, medical costs, lost workplace productivity, lost household productivity, property damage and congestion costs. 

The NHTSA says the economic impact was the equivalent of about $897 for every living person in the US and 2 per cent of GDP. 

"Economic costs represent only one aspect of the consequences of motor vehicle crashes. People injured in these crashes often suffer physical pain and emotional anguish that is beyond any economic recompense," the agency says. 

"The family and friends of the victim feel the psychological repercussions of the victim’s injury acutely as well."  

Alcohol, speed, distracted driving and people not wearing seatbelts all contributed to the cost of vehicle crashes. 

Alcohol-related crashes led the way, accounting for 21 per cent of economic costs and 28 per cent of societal harm. 

Crashes where one or more drivers were exceeding the legal speed limit or driving too fast for conditions came in second, with the NHTSA saying the incidents caused 21 per cent of economic costs and 24 per cent of societal harm."

The report says seatbelts prevented $349 billion in comprehensive costs in 2010 and have prevented over $8 trillion in societal harm over the last 36 years.

However, it adds that non-use of seatbelts represents a significant lost opportunity to prevent injuries.

"In 2010 alone, over 3,350 people were killed and 54,300 were seriously injured unnecessarily because they failed to wear their seat belts, costing society $13.8 billion," the report states.

NHTSA Acting Administrator David Friedman says the report underscores the importance of the agency's focus on improving road safety.

"We want Americans to live long and productive lives, but vehicle crashes all too often make that impossible," he says.

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