Traffic accidents in the U.S. cost $871 billion a year, federal study finds

BY Joan Lowy, Associated Press  May 29, 2014 at 12:30 PM EST

Photo by Flickr user Emily Boyd

Photo by Flickr user Emily Boyd

WASHINGTON — The economic and societal harm from motor vehicle crashes amounted to a whopping $871 billion in a single year, according to a study released Thursday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The study examined the economic toll of car and truck crashes in 2010, when 32,999 people were killed, 3.9 million injured and 24 million vehicles damaged. Those deaths and injuries were similar to other recent years.

Of the total price tag, $277 billion was attributed to economic costs — nearly $900 for every person living in the U.S. that year. Harm from loss of life, pain and decreased quality of life due to injuries was pegged at $594 billion.

The safety agency produces such calculations about once a decade.

“While the economic and societal costs of crashes are staggering, today’s report clearly demonstrates that investments in safety are worth every penny used to reduce frequency and severity of these tragic events,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

The study comes as Foxx is pressing Congress to increase the amount the government can fine automakers for safety violations like General Motors’ delayed reporting of ignition-switch failures. These penalties currently are capped at $35 million. Foxx is urging that the lid be increased to $300 million, and some senators have endorsed eliminated the limit entirely. GM says 13 people have died in crashes linked to the problem, but the head of the safety agency, David Friedman, says he expects the final death toll will be higher.

The study cites several behavioral factors that contributed to the enormous price tag, including drunk driving, speeding, and distracted driving.