The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a new study suggesting that car crashes effectively cost every American $900 per year. That data is based on crash information from 2010, when the pure economic impact of all car crashes tallied $277 billion, and the societal costs of those accidents added another $594 billion in costs.
The NHTSA study distinguishes between economic factors that purely affect crash victims, including loss of income, medical bills, and vehicle repairs, and societal costs like higher taxes, increased insurance costs, environmental damage, and traffic congestion. NHTSA said it did not release this study to put a cost on human lives, but instead to highlight how damaging car accidents are to society overall.
According to the data, the biggest cause of increased societal costs came from crashes due to speeding, at an estimated $210 billion, and $59 billion in pure economic damage. The next most expensive was accidents due to drunk driving, which NHTSA data cost society $199 billion in 2010 and produced $49 billion in economic losses, or $158 per American. NHTSA notes that 90 percent of drunk drivers involved in serious accidents had a blood-alcohol content of the legal limit, 0.08, or higher.
Interestingly, the NHTSA study said that drivers and passengers using seatbelts helped prevent $69 billion that would otherwise been spent on medical care or lost productivity, by avoiding injuries or deaths. On the other hand, car occupants who were injured or killed because they didn't wear seatbelts cost the nation a claimed $72 billion in societal costs, eight percent of the total.
"No amount of money can replace the life of a loved one, or stem the suffering associated with motor vehicle crashes," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. "While the economic and societal costs of crashes are staggering, today's report clearly demonstrates that investments in safety are worth every penny used to reduce the frequency and severity of these tragic events."