Agency study: traffic crashes cost U.S. society $340 billion in 2019

Jan 10, 2023
Traffic is pictured at twilight along 2nd Ave. in Manhattan

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. auto safety regulators said Tuesday in a landmark report that motor vehicle crashes, which are rising fast, cost American society $340 billion in 2019.

In a comprehensive economic impact study, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) examined the costs of a single year of crashes that killed around 36,500 people, injured 4.5 million, and damaged 23 million vehicles.

The crashes directly cost taxpayers $30 billion, and society as a whole $340 billion, the NHTSA found. When quality-of-life valuations were included, the total cost to society ran to $1.37 trillion – equivalent to 1.6% of U.S. economic output.

Distracted driving alone cost $98 billion, while the costs of traffic congestion, including travel delays and added fuel usage, were put at $36 billion.

NHTSA last estimated the societal cost of crashes in 2010, when it put the total at $242 billion.

U.S. traffic deaths are now rising sharply.

In 2021 alone, they jumped 10.5% to 42,915, the highest number killed on American roads in a single year since 2005.

Traffic deaths declined in the first nine months of 2022 by 0.2% but the fatality rate is still higher than in any pre-pandemic year since 2007.

Deputy Transportation Secretary Polly Trottenberg said Monday the agency is committed to addressing the death toll.

“We want to figure out what works,” Trottenberg said. “We don’t want to let ourselves off the hook.”

The number of pedestrians killed jumped 13% in 2021 to 7,342, the most since 1981. The number of cyclists killed rose 5% to 985, the most since at least 1980, NHTSA said earlier this year.

In the first six months of 2022, U.S. pedestrian deaths rose another 2% and cyclist deaths jumped another 8%, NHTSA said Monday.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Kevin Liffey)