The Effects of Traffic Crashes

Transportation-related fatalities account for more than 90% of all fatalities. Since the first documented crash death in 1899, more than 30 million people worldwide have died in traffic crashes. Economic losses due to motor vehicle crashes cost the nation approximately $230.6 billion annually--that’s an average of $820 for every person living in the United States. The cost and crashworthiness (how well vehicles protect occupants in different types of crashes) as well as drivers’ safety habits affect the cost of auto insurance. Out of concern for public safety and to help reduce the cost of crashes, automobile insurance companies support safe driving initiatives.

In 2003*, there were 6,328,000 police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes. Of the total crashes reported, 1,925,000 were injury-only crashes and 4,365,000 caused only property damage. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates 10 million or more crashes go unreported every year. Crashes involving vehicles on public roadways were the leading cause of work-related fatalities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accounting for almost a quarter of all fatal work injuries.

*The most recent year for which final statistics are available is 2003. The NHTSA issued their preliminary findings in September, 2005, for the year 2004. However, the final 2004 report will not be published until the year 2006.
 

Drivers over the age of 70 made up 12% of all traffic fatalities, 12% of vehicle occupant fatalities, and 16% of pedestrian fatalities. Drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 years old accounted for 14% of all drivers in fatal crashes and for 18% of all drivers in police-reported crashes. To remedy the higher crash rates of young drivers, states are increasingly adopting graduated driver licenses, which allow young drivers to improve their skills and driving habits.

The majority of persons killed or injured in traffic crashes in the United States were in passenger cars (65%), followed by light trucks (3%), motorcyclists (2%), pedestrians (2%), and large trucks (1%). The remaining 27% is spread among buses, pedalcyclists, and “Other/Unknowns” according to the NHTSA. Nearly 95% of the 11 million vehicles involved in motor vehicle crashes in 2003 were passenger cars or light trucks. Slightly more than half of all fatal crashes occurred on roads with posted speed limits of 55 mph or more while only 25% of property damage crashes occurred on the same roads. Traffic crashes on city streets are largely at intersections as a result of lane changing, running or jumping lights, etc., while crashes on freeways are mainly caused by tailgating or following too closely.

Many drivers believe that the most dangerous driving situations involve high speed driving environments such as those that are encountered while driving on freeways or interstate highways. This is contrary to actuality.

You may be surprised to learn that the most dangerous place on the road to drive is not typically in such high speed driving environments, but rather, the most dangerous driving situations are typically encountered during normal, everyday, driving at intersections.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has identified intersection safety as the number one high-risk area of highway safety. FHWA reports that, each year, more than 2.8 million intersection-related crashes occur in the United States, representing more than 44 percent of all reported crashes. Intersections are prone to serious traffic crashes simply because they place motor vehicle operators in an environment where motor vehicles directly cross paths, directly exposing drivers to traffic crashes in which little space is available to avoid the serious consequences of poor driver choices such as disobeying traffic signals, failing to stop at red lights, or “assuming” the right of way.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety* (IIHS) reports that more than 900 people a year die and nearly 2,000 are injured due to vehicles running red lights. And red lights are, of course, used at intersections. About half of these deaths are pedestrians and occupants in other vehicles who are hit by those drivers who run red lights. The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) reports that 96% of drivers fear being hit by a person running a red light at an intersection, while 55.8% admit to running red lights. And what is the most widely used excuse for red light running? “I was in a hurry.” Though this may be a reason, it is certainly not an excuse. There is no excuse for believing your time is any more valuable than anyone else’s time or that your time is more valuable than your safety or the safety of others.

*The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is wholly supported by auto insurers and is an independent, nonprofit, scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing the losses--deaths, injuries, and property damage--from crashes on the nation’s highways.
 

How many people die on our roadways annually?

In 2003, over 42,000 (approximately 42,643) people died on our roadways--that is an average of approximately 118 persons being killed on our roadways every day of the year, and an average of more than five people per hour. In other words, one person dies on our roadways every 12 minutes!

How many people are injured on our roadways annually?

Most people don’t want to fully realize and comprehend the possible consequences that each driver faces when in control of a vehicle. Some people choose to minimize injury statistics as a method of “denial.” However, we all know that denial just doesn’t work. Only prevention does. Please note that injury statistics referenced in this course may range from minor injuries, such as cuts and abrasions, to major injuries, such as spinal injuries (which may result in paralysis), and dismembering injuries, such as loss of limbs. Of course, any of the latter injuries can clearly alter a person’s quality of life forever.

The number of injuries that occur on our roadways is phenomenal. In 2003 alone, 2.9 million people were injured on the roadways of the United States. While one person dies on our roadways every twelve minutes, statistics have also shown that a motor vehicle injury occurs every eleven seconds.

Though our personal mobility and numerous business opportunities are greatly enhanced by the motor vehicle, there is no such thing as a “free lunch” or a “free ride” per se. We all pay for these “advantages” with our lives, with damages to our property, and through increasing costs in all categories of our existence just to derive the benefits we receive from the motor vehicle.

Each crash has an associated causal factor; the error which caused the crash to happen. Inattentiveness to driving (a category that includes many behaviors, such as talking on cellular phones or eating while driving) also contributes heavily to traffic crashes causing fatalities and injuries. Speeding is frequently a factor in both fatal and injury crashes. Aggressive driving behaviors such as lane violations also result in a significant number of fatal and injury crashes. Some other more common aggressive driving behaviors include following too closely, failure to yield the right of way, improper passing, disregarding stop signs (either slowing down rather than stopping, or even ignoring the signs completely), and driving on the wrong side of the road.


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This article was written by SafeMotorist.com defensive driving staff writers and reviewed for accuracy by defensive driving instructors. All articles are based on current traffic laws and defensive driving practices. This article is intended for educational purposes only, and should not be taken as legal advice or literal interpretation of any specific traffic law.