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Status Report, Vol. 45, No. 10 | September 28, 2010 Subscribe

Cost of crashes amounts to $500 per driver a year

The economic toll of crash-related injuries tops $99 billion a year, with deaths accounting for more than half that amount, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates in a study breaking down the impact of fatal and nonfatal injuries by vehicle type and the age and gender of the injured people. Young drivers and motorcyclists represent more than a third of the costs, and men run up a disproportionately high share of the tab.

Based on 2005 data, the analysis assesses the societal costs for medical care, treatment, rehabilitation, and lost wages and productivity. There were more than 3.7 million deaths and injuries on U.S. roads that resulted in medical care in 2005. The related costs amounted to $336 for every person in the United States, or nearly $500 for every licensed driver. CDC says the findings "are especially relevant to public policy because the government pays for some of these losses."

Among people who survived their crash injuries, an estimated $28 billion was spent on hospital stays and $14 billion on emergency room visits.

Injuries involving people in cars, pickup trucks, vans, SUVs, heavy trucks, and buses accounted for 71 percent, or $70 billion, of total medical care and productivity losses. Costs for motorcyclists and pedestrians were disproportionately high, given their injury incidence. Motorcyclists made up 6 percent of all injuries in 2005 and 12 percent of the costs, while pedestrians accounted for 5 percent of injuries and 10 percent of total costs. In contrast, bicyclists made up 13 percent of injuries and 6 percent of costs.

Men accounted for about half of the crash injuries but, at $74 billion, nearly three-quarters of the associated costs. Men were more than twice as likely to die in crashes, compared with women, representing 70 percent of fatal injuries and 79 percent of related costs. Men's lifetime injury costs per capita were 3 times as high as women's, mainly due to historically higher salaries.

Young people 15-24 years old were overrepresented in crash injuries, deaths, and costs. This group made up 28 percent of all fatal and nonfatal crash injuries and 31 percent of the costs, or $31 billion, while representing only 14 percent of the population. They had the highest lifetime injury costs per capita. Elderly adults had the lowest. For example, men 65 and older had per capita costs of $118 versus $1,249 for men 20-24 years old and $901 for boys 15-19.

Tougher laws and enforcement could trim the tab. CDC points out that "comprehensive child restraint use laws and primary seat belt laws could reduce the $3.6 billion annual bill for child occupant injuries and the $64 billion bill for teen and adult occupant injuries."

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