May 31, 2014

NHTSA finds that car crashes cost $871 billion and highlights that Swedish style road systems or Google self driving cars would be huge wins

The US Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a new study that finds the price tag for motor vehicle crashes in the US in 2010 carried a cost of $871 billion (6% of GDP) in economic loss and societal harm. This includes $277 billion in economic costs—nearly $900 for each person living in the United States based on calendar year 2010 data—and $594 billion in harm from the loss of life and the pain and decreased quality of life due to injuries.

3.9 million people were injured in 13.6 million motor vehicle crashes in 2010, including 32,999 fatalities. 24% of these injuries occurred in crashes that were not reported to police. About 23.9 million vehicles were damaged in motor vehicle crashes in 2010; 18.5 million or 77% of these vehicles were damaged in incidents that incurred property damage only. The remaining 23% involved injuries to occupants of the vehicle, or to non-occupants such as pedestrians or bicyclists.

Robotic cars from Google could address these problems if all cars were converted or replaced over a few decades.

Sweden has on third of the death rate from road accidents as the USA because they priortize planning and target zero traffic deaths

In 2013, 264 people died in road crashes in Sweden, a record low. Although the number of cars in circulation and the number of miles driven have both doubled since 1970, the number of road deaths has fallen by four-fifths during the same period. With only three of every 100,000 Swedes dying on the roads each year, compared with 5.5 per 100,000 across the European Union, 11.4 in America and 40 in the Dominican Republic, which has the world's deadliest traffic, Sweden’s roads have become the world’s safest. Other places such as New York City are now trying to copy its success. How has Sweden done it?

In 1997 the Swedish parliament wrote into law a "Vision Zero" plan, promising to eliminate road fatalities and injuries altogether. "We simply do not accept any deaths or injuries on our roads," says Hans Berg of the national transport agency. Swedes believe—and are now proving—that they can have mobility and safety at the same time.

Planning has played the biggest part in reducing accidents. Roads in Sweden are built with safety prioritised over speed or convenience. Low urban speed-limits, pedestrian zones and barriers that separate cars from bikes and oncoming traffic have helped. Building 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) of "2+1" roads—where each lane of traffic takes turns to use a middle lane for overtaking—is reckoned to have saved around 145 lives over the first decade of Vision Zero. And 12,600 safer crossings, including pedestrian bridges and zebra-stripes flanked by flashing lights and protected with speed-bumps, are estimated to have halved the number of pedestrian deaths over the past five years. Strict policing has also helped: now less than 0.25% of drivers tested are over the alcohol limit. Road deaths of children under seven have plummeted—in 2012 only one was killed, compared with 58 in 1970.

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