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NHTSA puts a dollar amount, not a face, on US car accidents

A report released today by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration made us think of the AMC series “Mad Men.” For those not familiar with the show, the main character is the consummate ad man of the ’50s and ’60s. His pitches are not the crass Playtex ads of old; they are poetic, pinpointing the needs of both the client and the consumer. They touch on both universal and personal themes with grace and ease.

There are so many ways to frame a persuasive argument. One, of course, is to make an emotional appeal. If that fails, the backup plan is often to be more practical by relying on numbers, specifically to hit the audience in their wallets. For example, you may not be moved by the history or satisfying experience of drinking California wines, but, hey, they are cheaper here in the Bay Area, so you might as well give them a try.

The NHTSA’s study was about the economic and societal impact of car accidents. The federal government has made some headway in its campaign to make the roads safer, but maybe the appeal to our emotions has run its course.

The term “societal” may sound more emotional, but the agency defines it as the total impact, the combination of tangible (costs) and intangible (lost quality of life) factors. The tangible factors include things like medical bills, property damage, lost productivity, insurance costs and the like, the things that come with a receipt. The less tangible factors the comprise quality of life include things like physical pain, the short- or long-term effects of a crash that don’t come with a receipt.

For their analysis, the researchers looked at accident data from 2010. Counting accidents reported to the police as well as unreported accidents, the year logged 32,999 deaths, 3.9 million (non-fatal) injuries and 24 million damaged motor vehicles.

In dollars, the economic cost to the United States was $277 billion. The combined total ran to an astonishing $871 billion. Each fatality translates into a lifetime societal cost of $9.1 million, 85 percent of which falls into the lost quality of life category.

The NHTSA also looked at the cause of these crashes. In our next post, we will discuss the most expensive mistakes a driver can make.


Click on Detroit, “NHTSA: Car crashes have $871 billion impact on economy, society,” May 29, 2014

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “The Economic and Societal Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, 2010,” May 2014, accessed at Click on Detroit

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