A Revealing Look at the Sources of These Costs & How to Reduce Them (& Save Lives)
A fatal car accident can be tragic and ruinous for the families who lose loved ones in these wrecks. While the emotional impacts can be deeply devastating and immeasurable, the financial costs – like those related to medical bills, funeral costs and lost income for families – can also be overwhelming.
On an individual level, the costs and impacts of a wrongful death caused by deadly car accident can be as far-reaching as they may be incalculable, possibly affecting survivors for the rest of their lives.
In the bigger picture, however, some of the costs of deadly car crashes across the U.S. have been measured. In fact, every year, the more than 30,000 fatal auto accidents that occur across the U.S. cost at least $44 billion.1
What is possibly more shocking (if not distressing) than these financial impacts are the facts that:
• These costs are expected to continue rising – In fact, according to federal transportation authorities, traffic-related deaths across the U.S. have dramatically surged in recent years, jumping up more than 7 percent from 2014 to 2015.2
• The vast majority of fatal auto accidents are caused by driver misbehaviors – As decades of federal crash data reveals, at least 94 percent of traffic crashes in the U.S. are caused by human factors and, in many cases, driver errors. In other words, most fatal car accidents could be prevented if drivers were more careful and responsible when behind the wheel.3
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the factors that, according to some of the latest data from federal transportation authorities, contribute to the astronomical $44 billion costs associated with fatal auto accidents. We’ll also share findings regarding:
- How these costs breakdown per state in the U.S.
- How motorist misbehaviors contribute to these costs
- How the $44 billion total breaks down when looking at different types of roadway users, as well as the specific ages of the victims of these crashes
- What is being done to try to prevent deadly motor vehicle accidents, reduce their associated costs, and save lives.
Factors Contributing to the $44 Billion Price Tag: Financial Costs Associated with Fatal Auto Accidents
The tens of billions of dollars that deadly auto crashes cost every year stem from various factors, including those related to medical care and societal harm in general.
More specifically, the primary factors contributing to the costs of fatal car accidents include (but are not necessarily limited to) the costs arising from:
• Medical care and burials, including ambulance expenses, emergency room bills, hospital bills, surgery costs, medication costs, funeral expenses, burial costs, etc.
• Property damage, including vehicle repair costs, as well as the expenses related to replacing other personal property damaged or ruined in wrecks (like cellphones, for instance)
• Lost earnings and productivity, with these costs not only impacting individuals and their families but also businesses and the economy in general
• Administrative & legal costs, including the costs related to filing accident claims with insurers and pursuing legal action for financial recovery when necessary (via the representation of a car accident attorney)
• Pain and lost quality of life, with these being challenging (if not impossible) to put a price tag on, as no sum of money can ever really capture just how acutely painful the loss of a loved one can be and how that can impact a surviving loved one’s quality of life forever.
Breaking Down the $44 Billion Price Tag: What Deadly Auto Accidents Cost by State
Looking at how the $44 billion total breaks down across individual states, the costs vary widely, with some in the tens of millions while others exceed $1 billion.
The following ranking shows just how much deadly auto accidents cost by state every year, in order from highest costs to lowest costs (followed by a breakdown of these costs in terms of estimated medical costs, MC, and estimated lost productivity costs, LP, comprising each state’s total):1
Top 10 (see complete list and infographic)
1. Texas – $4.89 billion (MC: $37 million, LP: $4.85 billion)
2. California – $4.48 billion (MC: $38 million, LP: $4.44 billion)
3. Florida – $3.02 billion (MC: $32 million, LP: $2.99 billion)
4. North Carolina – $1.71 billion (MC: $17 million , LP: $1.69 billion)
5. Georgia – $1.63 billion (MC: $14 million, LP: $1.61 billion)
6. Pennsylvania – $1.60 billion (MC: $17 million, LP: $1.58 billion)
7. New York – $1.59 billion (MC: $19 million, LP: $1.57 billion)
8. Illinois – $1.41 billion (MC: $13 million, LP: $1.39 billion)
9. Ohio – $1.33 billion (MC: $16 million, LP: $1.31 billion)
10. Tennessee – $1.25 billion (MC: $13 million, LP: $1.24 billion)
While it’s clear from these numbers that states with some of the largest populations in the U.S. are also those that see the highest costs from deadly wrecks, it’s also apparent that lost productivity comprises the bulk of these costs for every state in the nation.
Another Breakdown of the $44 Billion Price Tag: How Specific Driver Behaviors Contribute to the Costs of Deadly Crashes
The above costs are certainly jaw-dropping, especially in light of the fact that these costs, as well as the motor vehicle accidents from which they arise, are often preventable. In some cases, the costs and crashes could be avoided if vehicle equipment were safer (rather than faulty or defective); in others, these wrecks could be prevented if motorists were more attentive, sober and/or careful while driving.
When breaking down the $44 billion total across driver misbehaviors, the following are the top three motorist-related factors that cause fatal motor vehicle accidents – and that play a prominent role in driving up the costs of these crashes:4
• Speeding – The costs of fatal car accidents caused by drivers exceeding posted speed limits comprise roughly 24 percent of the annual total cost of deadly auto wrecks in the U.S.
• Impaired driving – Drunk and drugged driving makes up about 23 percent of the total annual cost of fatal auto accidents.
• Distracted driving – Deadly wrecks caused by motorists’ inattention to the road/the task of driving contribute to approximately 16 percent of the total annual cost of fatal car accidents.
Essentially, this means that speeding, impaired driving, and distracted driving contribute to more than 65 percent of the total costs of deadly motor vehicle accidents across the U.S. Every single one of these factors is 100 percent preventable.
Here, it is also important to note that other types of traffic crashes – including motorcycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, truck accidents, and bicycle accidents – also take a substantial financial toll on the nation.
The Costs of Fatal Motor Vehicle Accidents: A Breakdown by Types of Road Users & Ages of Victims
When analyzing the $44 billion total across different types of road users (throughout the U.S.), as well as the ages of the victims involved in these crashes, the findings are revealing.
In fact, in terms of types of roadway travelers, more than 30 percent of the $44 billion total cost is associated with travelers who are not drivers or passengers of motor vehicles, as the following infographic highlights.
In terms of the age of victims, national data indicates that the vast majority of the costs is associated with victims who are young to middle-age adults. The following infographic provides further details regarding the cost breakdown by victims’ ages.
Fatal & Nonfatal Car Accident Costs: How Much Crashes Are Costing YOU Every Year
Breaking down the above data even further, here is an estimate of just how much fatal car accidents cost you every year,4 based on specific types of driver misbehaviors:
• Speeding-related crashes cost nearly $170 per person in the U.S. every year.
• Drunk driving accidents cost the average American at least $140 annually.
• Distracted driving wrecks cost every American nearly $130 each year.
When adding the total for fatal and nonfatal car accidents, the average annual cost is about $800 per person in the U.S.
What Is Being Done to Prevent Deadly Car Accidents & Minimize Their Devastating Costs?
The financial impacts of fatal motor vehicle accidents are, without a doubt, harrowing. Looking to bring these costs down – and prevent fatal crashes and save lives, both state and federal transportation officials across the nation are taking action.
Some of the various things that are being done to reduce the incidence and impacts of deadly car accidents in the U.S. include (and are by no means limited to):
• Enhancing the use of vehicle safety technologies – Regulators have been working to get various types of safety technologies to be standard features in passenger vehicles, as well as in commercial trucks. In fact, recently, authorities at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) succeeded in:
o Getting 20 American automakers (comprising about 99 percent of the U.S. auto industry) to agree to make automatic emergency braking systems standard features on new vehicles (by 2022) – Regulators expect this agreement to prevent about 28,000 motor vehicle crashes every year.5
o Advancing efforts to have speed limiters required on heavy vehicles, like commercial trucks – In August 2016, DOT officials announced their official proposal to require that heavy-duty trucks (weighing 26,000 pounds or more) are required to be equipped with speed limiters (that would prevent drivers from exceeding speeds of 60 to 68 miles per hour, mph). Officials expect that speed limiters will be effective at preventing fatal motor vehicle accidents, with limiters set at:
• 60 mph expected to save between 162 to 498 lives every year
• 65 mph expected to save between 63 to 214 lives annually
• 68 mph expected to save between 27 and 96 lives each year.6
• Recalling defective and dangerous vehicle equipment – Making sure that faulty vehicle equipment is repaired and doesn’t harm the public is another way regulators are trying to prevent deadly crashes. Recently, some major vehicle-related recalls issued have included the:
o Takata airbag recall – Announced in May 2015, this recall impacts tens of millions of vehicles in the U.S. (made by various automakers). The recall was issued due to reports that defective inflators inside of the airbags carried a significant risk of rupturing, which would cause small metal fragments to be hurled at vehicle passengers (similar to shrapnel). At least 10 people in the U.S. have been killed – and more than 100 others injured – by Takata airbag ruptures. This recall is ongoing, but officials recently noted that “the pace of recall completion is accelerating rapidly.”7
o Graco infant car seat recall – As the single large child car seat recall in U.S. history, the Graco car seat recall impacted more than 6 million seats. The recall was issued due defects that caused the latch to become stuck, putting infants at risk, especially in emergencies (when they would need to be quickly removed from a vehicle).8
Here, it should be noted that, even when recalls are issued for defective or dangerous vehicle equipment, there is still the challenge of getting vehicle owners to respond to the recall and get the necessary remedy. In fact, federal authorities report that at least 20 percent of vehicles affected by recalls are never repaired. In 2014 – the single year within the past three decades that is associated with the most vehicle recalls, this means that about 12.78 million vehicles affected by recalls were never repaired.9
• Working to strengthen state laws – Authorities are working to get every state in the U.S. to implement graduated driver’s license programs (for new drivers), as well as primary seatbelt laws (which would allow police to pull over drivers and cite them for failure to wear seatbelts; this is in contrast to the secondary seatbelt laws that many states currently have, which only permit officers to cite motorists for not wearing seatbelts after they have been pulled over for some other offense – like running a stop sign or red light, for example).
Primary seatbelt laws would be expected to increase use of seatbelts by roughly 12 percent. Given that seatbelts can reduce the risk of injury and death by about 50 percent, increased seatbelt use could certainly save lives when serious crashes occur.10
• Pushing for enhanced enforcement of traffic laws – Enhancing traffic laws is just one side of the coin when it comes to making sure motorists are compliant, experienced and making safe choices when driving. The other side of the coin is effective enforcement. To this end, transportation safety officials regularly conduct heightened enforcement campaigns. Click It or Ticket (focused on seatbelt use), U Text. U Drive. U Pay. (targeting distracted driving), and Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over (aimed at stopping drunk driving) are all enforcement efforts federal authorities conduct annually to get motorists to comply with the laws (and to try to prevent crashes and save lives).
• Continuing public education efforts – State and federal transportation safety authorities regularly run public educations campaigns to remind drivers about the dangers of certain behaviors behind the wheel – and to continue reinforcing the fact that their choices, actions, sobriety and focus when driving can make the difference in preventing crashes and saving lives. Just a few of the safety campaigns that NHTSA runs every year include:
o Child Passenger Safety Week, which is focused on ensuring children are properly secured in vehicles and informing parents about how to choose safe car seats for children11
o 5 to Drive, which is aimed at reducing teen drivers’ crash risk.12
While these efforts are already making headway in improving roadway safety and preventing deadly auto crashes, some also hope that the development (and rollout) of self-driving vehicles over the next 5 to 10 years will also be effective at saving lives – especially considering just how often driver misbehaviors contribute to fatal motor vehicle accidents.
Recovering from Motor Vehicle Accidents
While authorities’ efforts may soon prove to be effective at reducing the prevalence and impacts of deadly auto accidents in the U.S., for families who have already experienced a loss from one of these wrecks, getting answers about the options for recovery and justice can be pivotal to starting to pick up the pieces.
The best way to get answers – and crucial support and guidance – following any type of car crash is to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer. An attorney can carefully review the facts of a given crash to help determine the best options for recovery and justice.
Although no amount of money can ever change the fact that an auto wreck has occurred, financial recoveries can be integral to restoring lives and healing to the extent possible.
Resources & Citations:
1: According to data compiled and reported by officials at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)
2: According to regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
3: According to the latest reports from the NHTSA
4: As reported by the NHTSA in The Economic and Societal Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, 2010 (revised, updated May 2015).
5: NHTSA Press Release announcing this agreement (published in March 2016).
6: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) press release regarding the official proposal for speed limiters in heavy duty vehicles.
7: According to the official NHTSA Takata Airbag Recall Site
8: DOT information regarding the Graco child car seat recall
9: According to the DOT. More on DOT efforts to boost recall compliance is available here.
10: NTHSA reports on benefits of primary seatbelt laws and effectiveness of seatbelts at protecting motorists.
11: More on the NHTSA’s Child Passenger Safety Week campaign
12: More on NHTSA’s 5 to Drive program & campaign