What’s the Real Cost of Car Accidents in the U.S.?

Odds are that you or someone you know has been in a serious car accident at some point. In fact, many Americans know someone—a family member, friend, coworker, or acquaintance—who has died in an auto accident. Even though the fatality rate has been on the decline since the 1960s, vehicle accidents remain a leading cause of death, disability, and serious injury here in the United States. In this article, we will review the human and economic costs of accidents, as well as the advances in technology and safety awareness that may make our roads safer for all drivers in the future.

Accidents are one of the leading causes of death and injury

The human cost of vehicles accidents is staggering. Every year, more than 37,000 Americans die in car crashes. Another 2.35 million are injured or disabled by wrecks. In total, unintentional accidents kill more people than either strokes and respiratory disease.

This is far from a new phenomenon. In fact, the rate of accident-related deaths has actually dropped dramatically since the 1960s, falling from 26.4 deaths per 100,000 people in 1969 to 11.4 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017. Most experts attribute the steady fall of accident fatalities to several key factors, including safer vehicles designed to protect passengers from an impact, seat belt law enforcement, and an effective advertising campaign against drunk driving

However, the unfortunate truth is—even this per-capita decrease in deaths—thousands are still dying or getting hurt on our nation’s roads and highways. In recent years, the rate of accidents has actually increased slightly, a trend many attribute to distracted driving. In addition to long-time accident risk factors such as impairment, drowsy driving, or aggression, cell phones, touchscreens, and longer commutes are putting more and more people at risk.

Accidents carry a staggering economic cost

When added up, vehicle accidents cause about $871 billion in damages every single year. Ultimately, this enormous cost is shouldered by drivers as a whole, either directly—by paying as individuals to hit a deductible or cover an accident with an uninsured motorist—or indirectly, through higher insurance rates. Most Americans pay more than $1,500 per year for car insurance, a cost that is increasing at a rate of about 5% per year.

What does the future hold?

Obviously, fewer accidents would greatly cut down on the costs all drivers pay for damages, fatalities, and injuries. Overall, many industry experts are optimistic and believe there is reason to think that the downward trend in fatalities that began in the second half of the twentieth century will continue. 

That optimism is fueled by both technology and driver behavior. As smartphones have become ubiquitous, laws governing their use in vehicles are catching up, and more Americans are going hands-free for a safer driving experience. Automakers are focused on creating ever-safer vehicles—beyond just material design, they are harnessing computers to have the vehicle make split-second decisions for drivers that could avoid an accident altogether. Finally, the rise of rideshare companies has given people a convenient, trendy alternative to drunk or drowsy driving.

Unfortunately, there will always be accidents as long as there are cars on the road. However, the combination of technology and safety awareness can make our roads much safer here in the United States over time. To learn more about the causes of car accidents—along with the role commercial trucks and motorcycles play in road safety—here’s an infographic by Los Angeles personal injury law firm Blair & Ramirez LLP that talks about costs associated with car accidents in the U.S.