A car accident is never an isolated matter. Even when it involves a single car, the effects can be far-reaching. And when viewed through the lens of greater society, it becomes obvious that these collisions are far more serious than most people realize.
Vehicle Deaths on the Rise
According to a report released by the National Safety Council (NSC), vehicle deaths in the United States were estimated at 40,000 for 2018. This marks the first time since the Great Recession that the U.S. has experienced three straight years of at least 40,000 traffic fatalities.
In addition to the 40,000 deaths, an estimated 4.5 million people were seriously injured in 2018. Though that figure represents a 1 percent year-over-year decrease from 2017, there’s little room for optimism for lawmakers and safety officials.
“Discouragingly, last year’s estimated 40,000 deaths is 14% higher than four years ago,” the report explains. “Driver behavior is likely contributing to the numbers staying stubbornly high. The Council’s estimates do not reveal causation; however, 2017 final data show spikes in deaths among pedestrians, while distraction continues to be involved in 8% of crashes, and drowsy driving in an additional 2%.”
While it’s impossible to put a price tag on the loss of life, subsequent data shows just how costly these accidents are to society. Research from 2014 – the last year in which reliable data is available – shows that motor vehicle crashes cost society roughly $871 billion. If you consider that this figure was based on just 32,999 deaths and 3.9 million injuries, it’s safe to assume that the monetary impact in 2019 will exceed $1 trillion.
Health and Car Insurance Premiums
There’s clearly a correlation between car accident costs and drivers involved in these accidents. At-fault drivers are required to pay out-of-pocket expenses and will typically see their insurance premiums go up. But did you realize that car accidents affect everyone?
“The economic implications go beyond the drivers. It is estimated that those who are not involved in auto accidents pay for 75% of the cost of car accidents through health and car insurance premiums and taxes,” Jonathan Rosenfeld of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers points out.
How can this be? Well, it comes down to the law of averages. When more people are involved in accidents, claims and payouts go up. Because insurance companies are in the business of turning a profit, they elevate their rates in order to maintain (and bolster) profit margins. This leads to increased rates across the board, regardless of who was involved in these accidents. The same goes for health insurance premiums, though these increases are more indirect costs than anything else.
Psychological Effects of Traumatic Car Accidents
It’s fairly easy to quantify the financial costs and health consequences of car accidents. What’s not so easy to calculate are the psychological side effects. But as society becomes more aware of mental health issues and how the brain responds to traumatic experiences, it’s becoming clear that the rise of car accidents may actually lead to additional accidents. In other words, it’s becoming a self-feeding cycle.
One of the more alarming side effects is fearful driving. When people are involved in car accidents and collisions, they often find it difficult to reclaim confidence on the road. Instead, they exhibit timidity, which can be a detriment to roadway safety.
According to auto blogger Seth Parks, “[Symptoms include] ill-advised signaling, poor lane choice, and misplaced courtesy put other motorists and pedestrians at risk. Psychologists have long understood the challenge posed by a fear of driving, which at the extreme can be exhibited as panic attacks and freezing. Fearful drivers also demonstrate less catastrophic symptoms, such as confusion and disorientation.”
While not acknowledged as an official cause of traffic accidents, it may be time to recognize this as the serious factor that it is. If a spotlight isn’t put on this issue soon, fearful driving could become an even more dangerous issue in the next three to five years.
Restoring Safety to American Roads
There’s no singular solution to making America’s roadways safer. However, as the data shows, we need to do something sooner rather than later. The costs are significant and will continue to rise. The proper solution will likely be a blend of safety technology enhancements, policy change, and behavioral change. It’ll require full cooperation from all sides.