Porsche wreck - sideFor people who have lost a loved one in a car accident, the pain cannot be given a dollar amount. But in a society that focuses on the bottom line, AAA is hoping that the results of a new study will draw attention to a major problem on our roads and get Congress to approve a safety-focused bill.

The study — “Crashes vs. Congestion — What’s the Cost to Society?” — in which AAA compares the cost to society of traffic accidents vs. traffic congestion, analyzed the financial damage of crashes in 99 urban areas in the U.S., and found that each fatal motor vehicle crash costs an average of $6 million.

As the AAA NewsRoom reports:

According to the study conducted for AAA by Cambridge Systematics, the overall cost of crashes ($299.5 billion) equates to an annual per person cost of $1,522, compared to $590 per person annually for congestion ($97.7 billion overall). The cost of crashes are based on the Federal Highway Administration’s comprehensive costs for traffic fatalities and injuries that assign a dollar value to a variety of components, including medical and emergency services, lost earnings and household production, property damage, and lost quality of life, among other things.

“Traffic crashes really need to be moved to the forefront of the American discussion as the public safety [and] health threat that they are,” observes AAA spokesman Troy Green.

“The burdens associated with congestion are [on] top of mind for many Americans as they travel to and from work each day,” said AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet. “However, at $300 billion annually, crashes cost our society more than three times the amount of congestion. This report further underscores the importance of a long-term, multi-year federal transportation bill that will provide the necessary and sustained investments that lead to better and safer roads for all Americans. Almost 33,000 people — 635 per week — die on U.S. roadways each year and that’s unacceptable,” Darbelnet said.

Reporting for CBSNews.com, Mark Strassmann writes:

‘If you took that and compared it to, say, aviation, it would take a small airliner falling out of the sky every day for 360 days for us to get close to that number,’ points out CBS News transportation safety analyst Mark Rosenker. ‘That’s clearly unacceptable in aviation and it is clearly unacceptable on the highway.’

“While the decline in traffic fatalities in recent years signifies a positive trend, our work is far from over. Continued progress will require active and focused leadership, improved communication and collaboration, and an investment in data collection and evaluation to make sure we’re addressing the nation’s most serious safety challenges,” Darblenet said.

Strassmann points out in his CBSnews.com article that safety technologies are helping, such as electronic stability control (ESC) that automatically applies the brakes during skids, and short-range radar sensors that warn when a collision looks imminent and activates airbags and seat restraints. CNET.com notes that ESC will be a standard feature in all 2012 cars, and says it is not always easy to tell if older cars have the feature or not, because up until now, different car makers called the system by different names.

Larry Copeland writes in USA TODAY:

AAA makes recommendations to reduce the financial impact of crashes. Among them: more investment in proven safety measures such as cable barriers along medians to prevent crossover accidents, modernized roundabouts and rumble strips.

Image by Kevin Hutchison, used under its Creative Commons license.

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