Cars today are safer than ever. Yet Americans are driving more dangerously, and it’s costing billions in property damage and lost quality of life.
In 2010, total economic and societal costs of motor vehicle accidents were estimated at $836 billion per year. The value of lost lives and the pain associated with severe injuries made up 70 percent of that. In real economic costs, a fatal or severe accident costs $1.4 million and $1.1 million per unit, respectively. In comparison, an accident involving only property damage costs about $4,000 per unit.
The number of fatalities has increased sharply since then. In 2016, approximately 40,200 people died in motor vehicle accidents, a 6 percent rise from the year before and a two-year increase of 14 percent.
Seat Belts Still Save Lives
Improved vehicle safety paid off in the decade between 2004 and 2014, when many states passed mandatory seat belt laws and vehicle safety improved with the addition of airbags and other technologies. Car crash fatalities decreased 23 percent, with the number declining from 42,836 to 32,675.
The rate of fatalities per million miles driven (vehicle miles traveled, or VMT) also decreased, from 1.44 to 1.07, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That’s important, because it means the decrease in fatal crashes wasn’t due only to how much or how often Americans were driving.
Fatalities and Fatality Rate per 100 Million Vehicle Miles Traveled by Year, 2004–2014
Throughout this period, seat belt use was increasing, especially in states where drivers can be fined just for failing to buckle up. Overall, seat belt use exceeded 90 percent in the United States in 2015, the highest percentage ever recorded.
Still, the nearly 10 percent of Americans who don’t wear seat belts number about 27.5 million, and they’re risking severe injury and fatalities. In 2015, 48 percent of passenger vehicle occupants killed in accidents were unrestrained.
Other leading causes of severe accidents and fatalities include driving while intoxicated (DWI) and distracted driving. That’s prompting calls for legislation to increase penalties for dangerous driving behaviors. Meanwhile, as I wrote previously, vehicle automation may offer solutions, exactly because fully automated cars don’t require attentive drivers.
ISO Claims Partners will continue to monitor trends that affect claims. For answers to questions about how our products can help you, please contact Tamara Flinn at Tamara.Flinn@verisk.com.