Traffic crashes claim high cost on society

Brent Jennings, PE
Highway Safety Manager

In the United States the annual societal cost of traffic crashes is $300 billion, more than three times the $98 billion cost of congestion, according to a report released by the auto club AAA. This report highlights the far-reaching economic impacts traffic crashes have on the nation and encourages that highway safety is made a top priority.

"The burdens associated with congestion are top of mind for many Americans as they travel to and from work each day," AAA President and CEO Robert Darbelnet said in a statement. "However, at $300 billion annually, crashes cost our society more than three times the amount of congestion.” According to the study conducted for AAA by Cambridge Systematics, the overall cost of crashes equates to $1,522 per person annually.

I find this report extremely interesting. In a similar manner, the cost of crashes in Idaho for 2010 was just over $2.4 billion. This equates to a cost of $1,577 for each Idahoan. Each life lost is devastating. Eliminating crashes not only spares the devastation felt by families, but it also makes economic sense in order to lower the “crash tax” burden.

For 2011 there is some good news on the horizon. A little over one year ago, at the end of November 2010, there were 204 fatalities. At the end of November for this year the unofficial fatality count stood at 155. It must kept in mind the end of 2011 is not here yet and that our final crash statistics will not be available until after the first of the year, but it appears Idaho could have less than 200 annual highway fatalities for 2011. Our crash records go back to 1956 and there has not been a year with an annual fatality count of less than 200 since this record keeping began.

So what has changed? It is a given the highway safety business has so many variables of influence that it is almost impossible at this point to predict what one action or group of actions accounts for the fatality reduction; however, when unrestrained (seatbelt), impaired, and speeding behaviors are examined it is revealed the fatality count in each of these behavior areas has decreased. It could be those who drive on Idaho’s roadways are making better driving choices about buckling up, not driving impaired and paying attention to speed limits. Without a doubt the level of impaired driving plays a major role in all of this. Certainly the work done by all our highway safety partners in the 4E’s of engineering, education, enforcement and emergency services also makes a significant difference.

The best news of all is that more families are together this holiday season. On behalf of the entire Office of Highway Safety we wish all of you and your families a safe and merry Christmas. Thanks for your contributions as we continue the journey together Toward Zero Deaths.

Published 12-30-2011