AAA: Cost of Crashes Exceeds Cost of Congestion

Drivers who are forced to sit through bumper-to-bumper traffic may spend more time dreading gridlock than accidents, but a new report from AAA points out that vehicle crashes actually cost society three times as much as traffic congestion.

The report, which was released Thursday, says crashes nationwide rack up $299.5 billion a year in economic costs, compared with $97.7 million in damages resulting from congested roadways.

“The burdens associated with congestion are top of mind for many Americans as they travel to and from work each day,” AAA President and chief executive officer Robert Darbelnet said in a news release. “However, at $300 billion annually, crashes cost our society more than three times the amount (caused by) congestion.”

While most people know that getting into an accident affects auto insurance rates in many cases, they may not be aware of the full extent of damages inflicted on society by vehicle crashes. The report quantifies the overall costs of crashes by assigning monetary value to factors including medical and emergency services, lost earnings and household production, property damage and decreased quality of life for accident victims.

For example, each crash-related fatality was valued at $6 million and injury costs were estimated at $126,000 for each incident.

To get the cost of congestion, the researchers used the combined costs of fuel, delay estimates and the value of time, as reported by the Texas Transportation Institute in its Urban Mobility Report 2010.

Vehicle accidents killed 33,808 people and injured another 2.22 million in 2009, the most recent year for which complete statistics are available, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Those figures represent the lowest number of fatalities since 1950 and a significant decline in crash-related injuries from the 2.35 million recorded in 2008.

Federal safety officials attribute the declines to vehicle safety innovations and state highway safety improvements, but they say the numbers remain far too high.

According to the AAA study, vehicle collisions add up to an annual per-person cost of $1,522, far exceeding the $590 in congestion losses.

The study, which analyzed data from 99 urban areas nationwide, found that an inverse relationship exists between the costs of accidents and the size of a metropolitan area. Crash costs per person decreased as the size of the metropolitan area—and the traffic congestion that accompanies that size—grew, with the costliest accidents occurring in small cities.

“In heavy congestion, traffic crashes tend to be less severe,” AAA spokesman Troy Green said in an email. “Because smaller metro areas aren’t as congested, drivers in these areas can maintain higher travel speeds. This increases the likelihood of increased crash severity.”

Researchers found that crashes in the largest cities cost nearly twice what congestion cost, while accidents in small urban inflicted costs that were almost six times greater than those associated with congested traffic.

The study’s authors recommend a number of efforts to cut those costs, including redoubling federal and state highway safety measures and increasing funding for data collection systems and testing and evaluation of safety innovations.

About Gregor McGavin
Gregor McGavin is an award-winning journalist who has reported across the country for such publications as The Associated Press, the Arizona Republic, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Press-Enterprise.

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