When Americans talk about transportation problems, they generally key in on traffic. Snarled highways, epic commutes and gridlocked business and commercial districts mar our suburban existence, weighing heavily upon our elected leaders, our policymakers and our families. Yet there’s a more costly problem to be addressed on America’s roads: motor vehicle crashes and vehicle-related injuries and fatalities. In 2009, a total of 33,808 people lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes and another 2.22 million people were injured.
By any standard, traffic crashes are a tremendous public health challenge, killing more children and young adults than any other single cause in the United States. While tremendous improvements in traffic safety have been made over the last few decades, there remains much work to be done. Annual traffic fatalities have remained above 40,000 for many years. Society seems to have come to accept this “death toll” with traffic crashes. This must change.
Looking past the steep human cost, traffic crashes and other safety-related disruptions actually cost us more at the societal level than traffic congestion. Most Americans would be surprised to learn the societal costs associated with motor-vehicle crashes significantly exceed the costs of congestion.
The 2011 AAA’s “Crashes vs. Congestion – What’s the Cost to Society?” report highlights the overwhelming and far-reaching economic impacts traffic safety crashes have on our nation and encourages policymakers at all levels of government to ensure safety is a top priority The report calculates the cost of crashes for the same metropolitan areas covered by the well-known Urban Mobility Report conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute. The annual societal cost of traffic crashes is $299.5 billion, more than three times the $97.7 billion cost of congestion, according to a report released today by AAA.
Safety improvements can provide the best of two worlds: saving lives (reducing human tragedy and economic impact) AND significantly reducing congestion. About half of all congestion is “non-recurrent” meaning it’s not due to a physical reason like bottlenecks or rush hour traffic. Non-recurrent congestion is usually due to crashes―and crashes are preventable.
Click here to read the full Crashes and Congestion report.