A comprehensive study released by the NHTSA on Tuesday found that vehicle crashes cost American society $340 billion in 2019. The study calculated the total societal cost of car crashes, borne by every American, not just those directly involved in car crashes. The total translates to $1,035 in extra costs incurred by each and every American due to increased medical and automotive insurance premiums for everyone, property damage, lost market productivity, and increased taxes to fund public services like first responders.
The sweeping report separately calculated the loss of life costs to society based on the 36,500 traffic fatalities in 2019, as well as in cases of severe injury. That amount was estimated to be an additional $1.37 trillion.
Both traffic crashes and fatalities increased in 2020 and 2021, in gross terms as well as based on fewer miles driven due to the pandemic. A total of 42,915 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2021, marking a 10.5% increase from 2020 (38,824) and the most deaths since 2005. Data for 2022 hasn’t been finalized yet.
The NHTSA completed a similar study in 2010 and concluded that the total cost to American society of vehicle crashes totaled $242 billion. That’s an increase borne by society as a whole of 40%. In addition to the drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists killed in 2019, the NHTSA reported that 4.5 million people were injured in vehicular crashes, which damaged 23 million vehicles.
“This report drives home just how devastating traffic crashes are for families and the economic burden they place on society,” Ann Carlson, NHTSA’s Acting Administrator, said in a statement.
The biggest contributors to vehicular crashes were distracted driving. It accounted for 29% of all crash costs and caused 1.3 million non-fatal injuries and 10,546 fatalities. That’s likely underreported as distracted driving is harder to prove as the reason for a crash. Alcohol-involved crashes were second, accounting for 20% of total crash costs. By comparison, there were only 497,000 injuries attributable to alcohol but 14,219 fatalities, making impaired driving fatal far more often. The economic cost totaled $68.9 billion. Speeding accounted for 14% of all economic costs, and for a similar number of fatalities due to distracted driving.
Americans not directly involved in car crashes paid for about 75% of all crash costs, the study found, through higher insurance premiums, taxes, lost productivity due to crash congestion, as well as excess fuel and increased environmental impacts due to crash-related traffic jams. The NHTSA estimated that crashes cost each household the equivalent of $230 annually in extra taxes.
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