State-Specific Costs of Motor Vehicle Crash Deaths

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About 38,000 people are killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes each year in the United States.1 Traffic crash deaths resulted in $55 billion in medical and work loss costs in addition to the immeasurable burden on the victims’ families and friends in 2018.1

The fact sheets below highlight the cost of deaths from motor vehicle traffic crashes and show which age groups and types of road users account for the largest portion of these costs in each state. CDC also includes information within these fact sheets about proven strategies that could strengthen each state’s motor vehicle injury prevention efforts and save both lives and resources. Rates of seat belt use are 92% in states with primary enforcement laws but only 86% in states with secondary enforcement or no seat belt laws.2 Such a difference is important since seat belt use reduces the risk of death by about half.2 The primary enforcement of seat belt laws for all seating positions is a proven strategy that can significantly reduce the number of injuries and deaths from motor vehicle crashes and the related costs.

Take a look at the fact sheets below to find costs and prevention strategies specific to each state.

1. Where did CDC obtain the data used for this analysis?

The data used for this cost analysis came from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) National Vital Statistics System and CDC’s Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). WISQARS is an online, interactive system that provides reports of injury-related data. Visit CDC’s WISQARS to find the costs of injury deaths and nonfatal injuries.

2. Did this analysis look at the total cost of fatal crashes, or just costs of deaths from crashes?

This analysis only included the cost of medical care and work loss for people who died in motor vehicle crashes. These costs are conservative because the analysis  did not examine total costs of fatal crashes, which could involve medical care for people who survived a crash in which someone else was killed. It also did not include property damage or vehicle damage costs or the cost related to insurance.

3. What are work loss costs?

Work loss costs are estimates of how much a person who died would have earned over the course of their life, had they not died. Work loss costs include the total estimated salary, various benefits, and value of household work that an average person of the same age and sex would be expected to produce over the remainder of their lifetime.

4. Why are work loss costs so high for motor vehicle crash deaths?

Work loss costs are based on estimates of how much a person who died in a crash would have earned over the course of their life, had they not died. Motor vehicle crash deaths disproportionately affect younger people, who have the potential to contribute to the workforce for many years. When a younger person dies, the result is a higher work loss cost.

5. How can costs due to motor vehicle crashes be reduced?

The best way to reduce costs due to crash-related deaths is to prevent crashes. Effective strategies for preventing crashes include graduated drivers licensing systems, sobriety checkpoints, and ignition interlocks for those convicted of driving while intoxicated.

Another way to reduce costs is to prevent injuries when crashes happen. Increasing car seat and booster seat use and increasing seat belt use through primary seat belt laws that cover all seating positions are proven ways to prevent injuries during a crash. Riding in vehicles with advanced safety features like occupant-sensitive/dual-stage airbags, electronic stability control, rollover protection, and automatic crash notification can also help mitigate injuries and improve emergency response.

CDC offers an  interactive calculator, called MV PICCS 3.0 (Motor Vehicle Prioritizing Interventions and Cost Calculator for States). This tool can help state decision makers prioritize and select from a suite of 14 effective motor vehicle injury prevention interventions.

6. Why did CDC choose to only look at state-based costs related to deaths and not non-fatal crash injuries?

The data needed to assess non-fatal crash costs were not available for all states. Successful state data linkage systems, however, can collect, link, analyze, and report on multiple sources of motor vehicle crash data. Linking police crash reports to medical records can be used to determine state medical costs for non-fatal crash injuries. Linking Information for Nonfatal Crash Surveillance (LINCS) is a guide that helps states start or expand their data linkage programs. The guide explains the key components of successful linkage programs and outlines the data-linkage process.

To learn more about successful state motor vehicle data linkage systems, visit Assessment of Characteristics of State Data Linkage Systems.

7. Isn’t it expected that larger states with larger populations would naturally have higher costs?

States with larger populations often have more people on the roadways, and therefore more crashes may occur. However, just because a state has a large or small population does not mean that its costs should be proportional. Wyoming, for example, has the smallest population of all the states, but does not have the lowest cost. Almost half of the United States population lives in the states with the 10 highest costs.

8. How were road users classified on the state fact sheets?

People killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes can be classified as motor vehicle occupants, motorcyclists, bicyclists, pedestrians, other road users, or unspecified road users. “Unspecified” indicates that the road user type was not specified on the death certificate. Recent research has found that deaths classified as unspecified are most likely motor vehicle occupants.3 The sum of occupant and unspecified road user deaths approximately equals the number of occupant deaths reported in other surveillance systems such as FARS (Fatality Analysis Reporting System). Based on this research, the cost estimates for motor vehicle occupants are based on the combined sum of the number of occupant and unspecified road user deaths. Motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians are reported as they were reported on the death certificate. In 2018, there were only 9 motor vehicle traffic deaths classified as “other” road users nationwide, so these road users were excluded from the state estimates that report costs by type of road user.

9. Why do some costs by age group or road user type not sum to 100%?

For some states, the costs by age group or road user type do not sum to 100%. This is due to rounding percentages for an age group or road user type, such as children or motorcyclists, to whole numbers and then summing these percentages to get a total.

10. Why are there no costs for some groups in some states?

The estimate of zero cost is based on no deaths being reported in that year for that group. For example, two states reported no traffic deaths among children aged 0–14 in 2018. These states have an estimate of $0 for the cost of traffic deaths among children in 2018.

References
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. WISQARS (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System) [online]. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC; 2020. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/index.html Accessed 2 Sep 2020.
  2. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Traffic Safety Facts: Seat Belt Use in 2019—Overall Results. US Department of Transportation, Washington, DC; 2019. Publication no. DOT-HS-812-875. Available at https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812875external icon Accessed 9 Sep 2020.
  3. Mack KA, Hedegaard H, Ballesteros MF, Warner M, Eames J, and Sauber-Schatz EK. The need to improve information on road user type in National Vital Statistics System mortality data. Traffic Injury Prevention, 2019;20(3): 276-81. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/15389588.2019.1576036external icon