Car crashes cost Americans hundreds of billions of dollars every year. In 2010 alone, the societal harm and economic cost of vehicle collisions amounted up to a whopping $871 billion.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released the results of a study Wednesday that examined the economic impact of car and truck crashes that occurred in 2010, when 32,999 people died, 3.9 million were injured and 24 million vehicles were damaged.

Up to $277 billion, or approximately $900 for every person living in the U.S. in 2010, was attributed to economic costs, while harm from loss of life, pain and deceased quality of life due to injuries accounted for the remaining $594 billion.

The economic cost of vehicular accidents is equivalent to 1.9% of the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2010, with productivity losses, property damage, medical and rehabilitation costs, congestion costs, court and legal costs, emergency services, insurance administration costs and costs to employers piling up to create the hefty price tag.

The NHTSA says society pays for nearly 75% of these costs through taxes, insurance premiums and congestion costs such as travel delay, added fuel use and environmental damage.

"No amount of money can replace the life of a loved one, or stem the suffering associated with motor vehicle crashes. While the economic and societal costs of crashes are staggering, today's report clearly demonstrates that investments in safety are worth every penny used to reduce the frequency and severity of these tragic events," says U.S. Secretary Anthony Foxx, who is pushing the government cap on fines for safety violations committed by car manufacturers.

But automakers alone are not wholly responsible for the staggering societal harm and economic toll imposed by vehicular accidents. In fact, 61% of the economic cost and 70% of the total societal harm from crashes in 2010 were due to motorists' driving behaviors. The NHTSA cites driving about the speed limit, drunk driving, driving while distracted and not using seatbelts as the most common factors that contributed to the major economic loss and societal harm.

Speeding caused 24% of societal harm or 21% of the total economic cost. More than 10,500 people died due to topping the speed limit in 2010 alone. This is closely followed by alcohol-related incidents, which accounted for 23% of societal harm and 18% of economic loss. Driving under the influence caused more than 13,300 deaths in that year alone. Pedestrians and bicyclists accounted for another 7% of the economic cost and 10% of the total societal harm.

"We want Americans to live long and productive lives, but vehicle crashes all too often make that impossible," says David Friedman, acting administrator of the NHTSA. "This new report underscores the importance of our safety mission and why our efforts and those of our partners to tackle these important behavioral issues and make vehicles safer are essential to our quality of life and economy." 

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