DETROIT – Traffic crashes in the U.S. cost society $340 billion in one year, or just over $1,000 for each of the country's 328 million people, according to a study by safety regulators.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it studied crashes in calendar year 2019 that killed an estimated 36,500 people, injured 4.5 million and damaged 23 million vehicles.
“This report drives home just how devastating traffic crashes are for families, and the economic burden they place on society,” Ann Carlson, acting administrator of the agency, said in a statement Tuesday.
With fatal crashes rising dramatically in 2021, the Transportation Department began pushing a “safe systems approach” to reduce crashes. It includes safer roads, behavior, vehicles and speeds, as well as better after-crash care.
In the report, researchers examined several NHTSA databases as well as crashes not reported to police that were gathered through consumer surveys, NHTSA's statement said.
The cost of the crashes amounted to 1.6% of the $21.4 trillion gross domestic product in 2019, the agency said.
People not directly involved in crashes pay for roughly 75% of all crash costs through insurance premiums, taxes, lost time from road congestion, excess fuel consumption and environmental impacts, the study found.
The study also calculated that from 1975 to 2019, seat belt use saved 404,000 lives and prevented $17.8 trillion in societal harm, NHTSA said.
Nearly 43,000 people were killed on U.S. roads in 2021, the highest number in 16 years as Americans returned to the roads. The 10.5% jump over 2020 numbers was the largest percentage increase since NHTSA began its fatality data collection system in 1975.
Estimates for the first nine months of last year show that crash deaths dropped 0.2% compared with the same period of 2021. But the government says the number is still unacceptably high.
In an effort to reduce the deaths, the federal government is sending $5 billion in aid to cities and localities to slow vehicles, carve out bike paths and nudge commuters to public transit.