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On a Crash Course: The Dangers and Health Costs of Deficient Roadways

Posted by Content Coordinator on Thursday, October 1st, 2009

PACIFIC INSTITUTE FOR RESEARCH AND EVALUATION
Principal study author: Dr. Ted Miller
“More than half of U.S. highway fatalities are related to deficient roadway conditions – a substantially more lethal factor than drunk driving, speeding or non‐use of safety belts – according to a
landmark study released today.  Ten roadway‐related crashes occur every minute (5.3 million a year) and also
contribute to 38 percent of non‐fatal injuries, the report found.

In revealing that deficiencies in the roadway environment contributed to more than 22,000 fatalities and cost
the nation more than $217 billion annually, the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) concluded
that making the roadway environment more protective and forgiving is essential to reducing highway fatalities
and costs.

‘If we put as much focus on improving road safety conditions as we do in urging people not to drink and drive,
we’d save thousands of lives and billions of dollars every year,’ principal study author Dr. Ted Miller said.  Miller,
an internationally‐recognized safety economist with PIRE added, ‘Safer drivers and safer cars remain vitally
important, but safer roadways are critical to saving lives, preventing injuries and reducing costs.’

Titled ‘On a Crash Course: The Dangers and Health Costs of Deficient Roadways,’ the study found the $217
billion cost of deficient roadway conditions dwarfs the costs of other safety factors, including:  $130 billion for
alcohol, $97 billion for speeding, or $60 billion for failing to wear a safety belt.  Indeed, the $217 billion figure is
more than three‐and‐one‐half times the amount of money government at all levels is investing annually in
roadway capital improvements – $59 billion, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

The report concluded that roadway related crashes impose $20 billion in medical costs; $46 billion in productivity costs; $52 billion in property damage and other resource costs; and $99 billion in quality of life costs which measure the value of pain, suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life by those injured or killed in crashes and their families.  The report also found that crashes linked to road conditions cost American businesses an estimated $22 billion at a time when many firms are struggling.  According to the report, crashes linked to road
conditions cost taxpayers over $12 billion every year.

‘Recent concerns about swine flu pale in comparison to the number of crash victims I treat,’ said Dr. Jared
Goldberg, an emergency room physician in Alexandria, VA. ‘In medical terms, highway fatalities and injuries
have reached epidemic proportions, and efforts to prevent further spread of this plague are essential.  In the
absence of a true vaccine to defend ourselves, fixing dangerous roads would help prevent traffic crashes from
occurring in the first place.’

On a Crash Course identifies ways transportation officials can improve road conditions to save lives and reduce
injuries.  For example, immediate solutions for problem spots include: replacing non‐forgiving poles with
breakaway poles, using brighter and more durable pavement markings, adding rumble strips to shoulders,
mounting more guardrails or safety barriers, and installing better signs with easier‐to‐read legends.  The report
also suggested more significant road improvements, including: adding or widening shoulders, improving
roadway alignment,  replacing or widening narrow bridges, reducing pavement edges and abrupt drop offs, and
clearing more space adjacent to roadways.

‘Although behavioral factors are involved in most crashes, avoiding those crashes through driver improvement
requires reaching millions of individuals and getting them to sustain best safety practices,’ continued Miller.  ‘It
is far more practical to make the roadway environment more forgiving and protective.’

The report also analyzed crash costs on a state‐by‐state basis.  The 10 states with the:

Highest total cost from crashes involving deficient road conditions are (alphabetically): Alabama,
California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.

Highest road‐related crash costs per million vehicle miles of travel are: Alabama, Arkansas, Hawaii,
Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Highest road‐related crash costs per mile of road are: California, Connecticut, District of Columbia,
Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and South
Carolina.”

Download Press Release (PDF)

Download Full Report (PDF): On a Crash Course: The Dangers and Health Costs of Deficient Roadways

About the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation
PIRE is a leading independent transportation safety research organization.  It has conducted research for a range
of organizations, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Insurance Institute for Highway
Safety, National Safety Council and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
www.pire.org

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