Motor Vehicle Crashes Cost the U.S. Nearly $1 Trillion/Year

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released its latest report on the cost of motor vehicle crashes this week. Its findings:  the total annual cost of motor vehicle crashes, in economic losses and societal harm, came to 871 billion dollars in 2010.  This figure represented a 20 percent increase from its estimate of such costs in 2000. Assuming this trend continues, our society will soon suffer a trillion dollars a year in losses due to negligent drivers.

The NHTSA determined that, in 2010, the US economy suffered $277 billion in direct economic loss due to motor vehicle crashes – which is equal to 1.9% of the US Gross Domestic Product, or the total economic output of this country. It further calculated that the US suffered $594 billion in societal harm due to either the loss of life or diminished quality of life of victims resulting from these millions of collisions. How many victims? In 2010, there were 33,000 fatalities and 3.9 million injuries due to such crashes. Put another way, fully 1.3% of the entire US population is killed or injured in a motor vehicle collision per year.

The overwhelming majority of these crashes are preventable, of course.  The NHTSA report identifies just three factors that produced the lion’s share of this harm. It estimates that: (1) Speeding accounted for 21% of the total economic loss, and 24% of the total societal harm; (2) Drunk Driving caused 18% of the economic loss and 23% of the societal harm; and (3) Distracted Driving [texting, cellphone calls, eating, etc.] resulted in 17% of the total economic loss and 15% of total societal harm.  In other words, about 3 million people are being killed and injured each year purely as the result of drivers engaging in behaviors they know to be dangerous.

And (no surprise) the NHTSA finds that the costs of this reckless, negligent behavior is borne, by and large, by the general public, and not the bad actors. The report estimates that 75% of the total costs associated with motor vehicle crashes show up in the form of higher taxes, insurance costs, medical costs, and the negative economic effects of congestion and other environmental impacts.