NHTSA Calculates Economic Costs from Rising U.S. Car Accident Rate

It’s no secret that car accident rates have risen rapidly in nearly every region of the United States over the last few years.  Now a groundbreaking new study from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is shedding light on precisely what those crashes are costing society on an economic level.

The Killino Firm’s Auto Accident Lawyers believe the victims of negligent, impaired, and reckless motorists deserve compensation for their pain and suffering. If you or someone you love was injured or killed in connection with a motor vehicle crash, call our law firm toll-free at 877-875-2927 to speak with an attorney and learn more about your legal rights.

Car Accidents Killed 36,000+ in a Single Year

The NHTSA’s new report examines the cost of car accidents for just one year – 2019.

During the single 12-month period covered by the study, traffic crashes along the nation’s roads and highways claimed more than 36,500 lives, injured another 4.5 million, and damaged 23 million vehicles.

While the human cost of that carnage is unfathomable, the NHTSA was able to calculate the overall economic toll, finding that the crashes directly cost taxpayers $30 billion and society as a whole $340 billion. These losses include medical costs, lost productivity, legal and court costs, emergency service costs, insurance administration costs, congestion costs, property damage, and workplace losses.

When quality-of-life valuations were included in the equation, the total cost to society rose to $1.37 trillion – equivalent to 1.6% of the total U.S. economic output.

“This report drives home just how devastating traffic crashes are for families and the economic burden they place on society,” said Ann Carlson, NHTSA’s Acting Administrator. “We need to use the safe system approach embraced in DOT’s National Roadway Safety Strategy to dramatically decrease the number and severity of crashes: safer roads, safer people, safer vehicles, safer speeds, and better post-crash care.”

Alcohol Use Among Risky Behaviors Fueling Rising Car Accident Rate

The NHTSA also examined the cost of the risky driving behaviors that most often contributed to fatal crashes, severe injuries, and property damage.

According to the agency, alcohol-related wrecks resulted in 14,219 deaths, 497,000 injuries, and $68.9 billion in economic costs in 2019, accounting for 20% of all crash costs. Those involving a driver with a BAC of .08 or higher were responsible for more than 90% of the economic costs and societal harm attributed to alcohol-impaired driving.

Speed-related crashes were associated with 10,192 fatalities, 498,000 nonfatal injuries, and $46 billion in economic costs, accounting for 14% of all accident-related economic costs.

Failure to buckle up caused 2,400 avoidable fatalities, 46,000 serious injuries, and $11 billion in easily preventable injury-related costs, accounting for about 3% of all crash costs. According to the NHTSA, seat belt use also prevented more than 14,600 fatalities, 450,000 serious injuries, and $93 billion in injury-related economic costs in 2019.

Car Accident Death Rate May be Leveling Off, Remains Catastrophically High

Unfortunately, U.S. roads and highways have been particularly deadly over the past several years.

In 2020 alone, 38,824 lives were lost in car accidents, and other traffic crashes nationwide – the highest number of fatalities since 2007. According to the NHTSA, the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled rose to 1.34, a 21% increase from 2019 and the highest since 2007. In 45% of those fatal crashes, the drivers were engaged in at least one risky behavior, including speeding, alcohol impairment, or not wearing a seat belt.

The statistics for 2021 were even worse.

That year, an estimated 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes, a 10.5% increase compared to 2020 and the highest number of fatalities since 2005. Once again, risky behaviors played a significant role in the rising death rate, with the NHTSA finding that fatalities associated with alcohol- and speed-related crashes were both up 5% compared to 2020.

Fortunately, preliminary numbers for 2022 suggest the crash fatality rate may finally be leveling off. According to the NHTSA, an estimated 31,785 people died in traffic crashes in the first nine months of last year, a 0.2% decrease compared to the same period in 2021. However, while crash deaths were down in 24 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, fatalities continued to rise in 25 states and remained unchanged in one.

Stay Safe Behind the Wheel

While it’s not always possible to avoid a car accident, there are many precautions drivers can take to reduce the risk of a severe or fatal crash.

  • Keep your distance. Drive far enough behind the vehicle in front of you so you can stop safely. In optimal conditions, keep your car at least three seconds behind the vehicle ahead of you, longer if you’re in a heavier vehicle. Increase following when weather conditions are bad. Never tailgate.
  • Drive strategically. Scan 12 seconds ahead while driving, and avoid situations that could force you to brake suddenly. If a driver is following you too closely or isn’t paying attention, try to safely maneuver out of their way.
  • Don’t Drive distracted. Under no circumstances should you take your eyes off the road to eat, read a text message, find your phone, or operate your vehicle’s entertainment system.
  • Don’t drive when drowsy or under the influence. You’re more likely to make driving errors when you’re sleepy or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Drive the speed limit: The faster you drive, the less time you have to react to the drivers and conditions around you.
  • Avoid driving in bad weather when possible: Heavy rain and slick roads are among the most common causes of wrecks, no matter where you live. In the winter months, snow and ice are even more dangerous. If you can’t avoid driving in bad weather, reduce your speed, stay focused on the road, and proceed with extra caution.
  • Be Courteous: No one owns the roads, so treat others with respect and report any suspicious driving activity to authorities.

Contact an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer

Our Car Accident Lawyers have extensive experience representing crash victims and their families. If you were injured or lost a loved one due to a reckless, negligent, or impaired driver, our law firm has the resources and expertise to effectively represent your interests should you choose to file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. To learn more, please contact us for a free consultation at 1-877-875- 2927.