The enormous economic burden of motor vehicle crashes

When we talk about the unacceptable toll of motor vehicle crashes in the U.S., we are talking about more than the 35,000 fatalities every year. We are talking about more than the hundreds of thousands of injuries.

The cold, hard fact is that crashes are a huge economic burden.

Not just a burden on crash victims and their families—although that is certainly true—but a burden on all of us.

As of 2015, the annual national cost of motor vehicle crashes was about $242 billion.

That is 1.6% of the entire GDP in 2015.

Or, about $784 per person.

Put another way, the cumulative toll of the crashes that take place

across the nation every year ends up costing every American $784 a year.

Out of Control, St. John Barned-Smith and Dug Begley

There are personal and humanitarian reasons to reduce the number of crashes: we don’t want to suffer. We don’t want to see others suffer.

Those are compelling reasons.

But the economic reasons to reduce the number of crashes are compelling in a purely practical way.

We are all paying for other people’s motor vehicle crashes, directly in the form of higher insurance premiums and taxes for emergency responders and crash cleanup. Indirectly, we pay the cost of the loss of productivity when a crash closes I-5.

We pay the cost of subsidized medical care when insurance companies deny crash claims for seriously injured people.

The national cost of motor vehicle crashes was about $242 billion in 2015.

I’m a trial lawyer, not an economist, so I am usually far more concerned with the individual toll of traffic violence. I see how it hurts people and their families in their everyday lives.

What we don’t see is how the cumulative toll of crashes is affecting all of us, all the time.


Most motor vehicle “accidents” are not accidents at all: they are predictable, preventable crashes.


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