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NHTSA Study Reveals Shocking $340B Price Tag for Traffic Crashes

Two heavily damaged black cars. The airbags are deployed and there is crash debris in the road.

The financial and societal toll of car accidents in the United States.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed the staggering total cost of motor vehicle crashes in 2019: $340 billion. The agency's latest report, "The Economic and Societal Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, 2019," offers a comprehensive look at the impact of a year of crashes that resulted in the loss of 36,500 lives, left 4.5 million individuals injured, and resulted in damage to 23 million vehicles.

"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."

Taking a closer look at the NHTSA report

Drawing on a range of data sources, including the NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System and various crash investigation and report sampling systems, the report reveals that the cost of crashes in 2019 reached $340 billion. This amounts to roughly $1,035 for each of the country's 328 million residents and represents 1.6% of the nation's real gross domestic product for that year.

While those directly involved in crashes bear some costs, most expenses, totaling roughly three-quarters of the total cost, are absorbed by those not involved in the accidents. These costs come from insurance premiums, taxes, and congestion-related expenses such as lost time, increased fuel consumption, and environmental impacts.

Additionally, the report highlights that traffic crashes cost taxpayers $30 billion in 2019, equivalent to $230 in taxes for every household in the United States. This represents 9% of the total cost of motor vehicle crashes. The losses include medical expenses, lost productivity, legal and court fees, emergency services, insurance administration, congestion costs, property damage, and workplace losses.

Considering the impact on quality of life, the total societal harm from motor vehicle crashes in 2019 is estimated to be nearly $1.4 trillion.

Finally, the report underscores the significance of seat belt use. From 1975 to 2019, seat belts saved 404,000 lives and prevented $17.8 trillion in societal harm.

Negligence is the cause of most crashes.

The report looks at the cost of alcohol, distraction, and speeding in the context of motor vehicle crashes.

  • Alcohol-involved crashes resulted in 14,219 fatalities, 497,000 injuries, and $68.9 billion in economic costs in 2019, accounting for 20% of all crash costs. Of these alcohol-related crashes, those involving alcohol levels of .08 BAC or higher accounted for more than 90% of the costs and societal harm.
  • Distracted driving also took a toll in 2019, resulting in 10,546 fatalities, 1.3 million nonfatal injuries, and $98.2 billion in economic costs, accounting for 29% of all crash costs.
  • Speed-related crashes, meanwhile, resulted in 10,192 fatalities, 498,000 nonfatal injuries, and $46 billion in economic costs in 2019, accounting for 14% of all crash costs. The cost of speed-related crashes is an average of $141 for every person in the United States.

The report also includes data on the costs associated with motorcycle crashes, pedestrian crashes, bicyclist crashes, and different roadway designation crashes.

The importance of accountability to reverse troubling trends

What's even more striking about these numbers is that 2019 was a relatively good year for car accidents. Up to and including 2019, the fatality rate had declined consistently for 30 years. That progress has reversed in recent years, going in the wrong direction in 2020 and 2021.

The NHTSA report highlights the importance of holding negligent drivers accountable for their actions and sending a clear message that such behavior will not be tolerated. Along with keeping our roads safer, holding negligent drivers accountable also helps provide justice and compensation to crash victims and their families, who may have suffered as a result of someone else's careless actions.

Injured in a Lexington, SC car accident? Schedule your free consultation today.

At Johnson + Johnson Attorneys at Law, our Lexington-based car accident lawyers have dedicated their practice to serving greater Columbia, South Carolina, crash victims. With roots in the community, brothers Kevin C. Johnson and Steven W. Johnson bring a deep understanding of the local legal system and a commitment to their clients.

As trusted members of the Lexington community, our attorneys approach each case with a personal touch, treating clients not just as clients but as family. With a focus on dignity and respect, we are proud to serve our neighbors in their time of need.

If you or a loved one were hit by a negligent driver and sustained injuries, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses. To see how an experienced Lexington, SC, car accident attorney can help you, contact us today for a free case evaluation.

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