How Much Do Car Accidents Cost the Average Citizen?

Car accidents are an unavoidable problem when it comes to driving. Either you’ll get in one, or have to deal with the consequences of one in your day-to-day driving. Even a fender-bender can back up traffic for miles under the wrong circumstances.

But have you ever wondered how it affects your wallet? The average citizen pays for accidents they’re never involved in, in ways that might surprise you.

The Shocking Numbers

Fatal car accidents alone cost the California tax payer more than $4 billion a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And fatalities are just a small subset of traffic accidents, with 30,196 fatal accidents in 2010. Non-fatal accidents — ranging from minor bumps and scrapes to serious injuries — totaled nearly 3 million. A non-fatal, but disabling, car crash costs $70,200, according to the National Safety Council, and even a “property damage” crash, essentially a fender-bender, ultimately runs everyone $8900 in costs.

What Are We Paying for?

Most people would assume that it’s the medical bills that make up most of the cost in fatal accidents, but actually, almost all of that cost is work-loss related as the victim’s family and friends deal with insurance companies and struggle with their loss. The National Safety Council estimates that just one traffic fatality will ultimately cost $1,410,000 in lost productivity, administrative costs, property damage, and unrecoverable expenses, and the overall cost of $4,360,000 once insurance increases, taxpayer costs, and research into safety features as new issues come to light.

Even in non-fatal cases, police overtime, EMT use, court costs, road repairs, disability payments, all of these take their toll. If a worker is taken out of the workforce due to a disabling injury, that’s productivity lost, and sometimes far worse … as in decades of misery as the injured and their family and friends struggle with chronic pain.

Finally, there’s simply the lost productivity of everybody who was NOT in the accident. If you’re stuck in traffic waiting for the road to clear, you’re not at work, earning more money and getting more done at your job. You feel it in your paycheck at the end of the week, and the company you work for feels it in the lack of productivity. Similarly, every time there’s an accident, auto insurance companies adjust their predictions of risk… and depending on what the data says, may inch up your rates, even if you were not involved.

How Can We Reduce Cost?
The good news is that overall, both fatal and non-fatal accidents have been trending steadily downwards for decades. Advanced new safety features have come on the market, reducing fatalities and disabling injuries. Decades of awareness campaigns and stricter laws have reduced drunk driving, although alcohol-related accidents still account for one third of all fatalities on the road as of 2010.

New regulations help as well: For example, Johns Hopkins found that graduated license programs reduced fatalities among new drivers by 11 percent. And the overall trend will likely continue downward; private corporations and public servants alike are highly motivated to reduce traffic accidents. For example, the In Sync adaptive traffic system has been shown to lower overall crashes on busy highways by up to a third as it reduces both sudden stops and frustratingly long lights that drivers may choose to disobey.

In the meantime, what we can do on the road is simple: Be courteous and respect both the safety of ourselves and others. If accidents cost all of us money, then we should all do our part to reduce them.

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