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Study: Automobile Crashes Cost America $871 Billion Per Year

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For years, U.S. traffic fatalities have been on the decline, thanks in no small part to car safety features like seatbelts, crumple zones, airbags, and braking assistance.

That's great news, but it overshadows the fact that even tiny fender-benders can have massive financial implications. A new study shows that the cost of U.S. auto accidents added up to $871 billion in 2010 alone.

The study was conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Entitled "The Economic and Societal Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, 2010", it examines the gamut of expenses associated with automobile collisions, from car repairs and hospital bills to lost wages and lawsuits.

All told, 32,999 people died on U.S. roads in 2010 (up from initial estimates of 32,885). Another 3.9 million drivers, passengers, and pedestrians suffered non-fatal injuries. Combined, those fatalities, bruises, and bumps came at a direct cost of $277 billion, or $897 per U.S. resident.

Once NHTSA added indirect costs, the pricetag soared to $871 billion. The itemized bill included:

  • $35 billion in medical bills
  • $93 billion in lost productivity
  • $46 billion lost earnings due to fatalities
  • $76 billion in property damage
  • $28 billion in traffic congestion (including fuel consumption and emissions)
  • $14 billion in legal costs
  • $25 billion in insurance

Sadly, a significant number of those collisions -- and their costs, human and otherwise -- were avoidable:

  • Drunk driving accidents cost $59 billion 
  • Speeding accidents cost $59 billion
  • Distracted driving collisions cost $46 billion 
  • Failure to wear seatbelts resulted in 3,350 deaths, 54,300 serious injuries, and $14 billion in expenses

There is some good news, though. Census data suggests (PDF) that, like fatalities, the number of auto-related injuries is declining, and NHTSA confirms that: "Seat belt use prevented 12,500 fatalities, 308,000 serious injuries, and $69 billion in injury related costs in 2010". With the advent of vehicle-to-vehicle communications and increasingly autonomous cars, we hope to see those numbers fall much, much further. 

You can read NHTSA's full report by downloading this PDF.

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