Automobile crashes in the United States cause nearly half a million deaths every decade, leave 2 million people permanently disabled and cost about $2.3 trillion.
During 2006, 43,300 people were killed in motor vehicle accidents in the United States. Another 2.5 million were injured. As of Dec. 27, 543 people had died in Colorado motor vehicle accidents last year. Of those, 38 died in El Paso County, including 23 in Colorado Springs.
During any 10-year period, traffic fatalities and severe injuries are significantly greater than the aggregate losses incurred by U.S. forces during World War II (405,399 dead, 671,846 wounded), the Korean War (40,692 dead or missing in action, 92,134 wounded) and the Vietnam War (58,209 dead, 303,635 wounded) combined.
If any other mode of transportation had a comparable statistical profile, Americans likely would stop using it.
If 43,300 people died in plane crashes annually, that would amount to 300 downed airliners, or six crashes every week. Such numbers are inconceivable given that domestic plane crashes are rare.
The most recent crash of a commercial airliner in the United States took place in Lexington, Ky., on Aug. 26, 2006, when a Delta regional jet crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 47 passengers and two of the three crewmembers. That was the first such incident since November 2001 when an American Airlines A300 broke up in flight and crashed near John F. Kennedy International Airport, killing all 251 aboard.
Immediately after 9/11, Americans took to the roads, refusing to fly if there was any other option. From October through December 2001, there were 1,000 more highway fatalities than in the same period the year before.
“The ‘9-11 effect’ produced a third again as many fatalities as the terrorist attacks,” said David Ropeik, an independent risk consultant and a former professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.
While traffic fatalities during recent decades have declined by some statistical measures (e.g., relative to population, vehicle numbers and vehicle miles traveled), the total is still extremely high. And motor vehicle accidents involving injury or death are not only individual tragedies.
“Society also bears the brunt of the many costs associated with motor vehicle accidents. The estimated cost of motor vehicle crashes is $230.6 billion, or $820 for every person living in the United States and 2.3 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product,” according to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, an industry-funded nonprofit organization. “These costs include productivity losses, property damage, medical costs, rehabilitation costs, travel delay, legal and court costs, emergency services, insurance administration and employer costs.”
RMIIA says that private insurers pay about 50 percent of all motor vehicle crash costs. Individual crash victims pay about 26 percent and third parties, such as uninvolved motorists delayed in traffic, charities and health care providers, pay about 14 percent. Federal revenue accounts for 6 percent, and state and local municipalities pick up about 3 percent.
Overall, those not directly involved in crashes pay for nearly three-quarters of all crash costs, primarily through insurance premiums, taxes and travel delays — adding up to an overall price tag of more than $170 billion.
Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said that highway accident figures, horrific as they are, nevertheless reflect an unspoken consensus among Americans.
“We’ve made an enormous amount of progress in vehicle design, and in understanding how to make highways safer,” he said. “But (deaths and injuries) are much higher than they could be. Legislatures all over the country are falling over themselves to increase speed limits. Speeding kills a thousand Americans every month. There’s a cost to getting places fast — and politicians and their constituents are apparently willing to accept the cost. But until (those attitudes) change, we won’t make the progress that other advanced countries have made.”