• Jul 2, 2009
What would you think to be the leading contributor to fatalities in car crashes here in the States? Failure to use seat belts? Speeding? Drunk driving? Think again. According to a new study commissioned by Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE), the leading cause of highway fatalities is deficient road conditions. In fact, the study asserts, with a roadway-related crash occurring every minute on American streets, inadequate roadway infrastructure is responsible for the majority of highway fatalities in the United States and over a third of injuries incurred in non-fatal crashes as well.

Given the state of many roadways, you might think that the situation – like America's road network – is beyond repair. However, the study, entitled "On a Crash Course: The Dangers and Health Costs of Deficient Roadways," assesses the financial cost alone of crashes caused by these substandard roadways – as a whopping $217 billion annually, including medical bills, loss of productivity and property damage. That's more than three-and-a-half times the $59 billion which local, state and federal governments in the United States invest in improving America's roadways. PIRE's solution? Improving road conditions, of course, including better signage and markings, widening shoulders and removing obstacles from roadsides. Follow the jump to read more on PIRE's findings and suggested solutions for what it deems is one of the largest killers in America.

[Source: Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation | Image: STR/AFP/Getty]
PRESS RELEASE

More than Half of Highway Fatalities Are Related to Deficient Roadway Conditions
New Study Shows More Forgiving Roads Would Save Lives and Cut Costs; Health Experts & Transportation Leaders Urge Congressional Action

WASHINGTON, July 1 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- 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.


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). Drawing upon the most recent available data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, PIRE employed analytic modeling methods to evaluate the causes and costs of U.S. motor vehicle crashes in preparing On a Crash Course.

PIRE conducted the study on behalf of the Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC), which hosts the full report, complete state-by-state data and other research findings at www.transportationconstructioncoalition.org. TCC members are calling on Congress to provide significant, dedicated funding for roadway safety improvements and to develop programs that encourage states to invest even more. The federal law that governs transportation funding will expire this fall, and congressional committees are now in the process of drafting successor legislation.

About the Authors

Ted R. Miller, Ph.D., Regional Science (economics); M. City Planning and M.S., Operations Research, Principal Research Scientist

Dr. Miller is an internationally recognized safety economist, who has led more than 150 studies and authored more than 200 scholarly papers. He is a leading expert on injury incidence, costs and consequences, as well as substance abuse costs. His cost estimates are used by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Justice Department and several foreign governments. He has estimated benefit-cost ratios for more than 125 health and safety measures. He is a Fellow with the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine and has received several national awards for his work.

Eduard Zaloshnja, Ph.D., Applied Economics
Research Scientist


Dr. Zaloshnja has a background in applied economics and econometrics, specializing in safety/substance abuse issues. At PIRE, he has estimated U.S. highway crash and bus and truck crash costs, as well as the costs of crashes to employers and the frequency and costs of traumatic brain injuries. He also has conducted effectiveness and benefit-cost analyses of diverse crash safety countermeasures including safety belts, child safety seats, booster seats, red light cameras, cattle guards, and streetlights. Currently, Dr. Zaloshnja is investigating how often people become Medicaid recipients in order to pay their medical bills following catastrophic injuries.

About PIRE

The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) is a non-profit public health research organization. For more than 30 years, PIRE has studied transportation safety, doing groundbreaking work on issues related to driver behavior, including studies of safety belt use, driver distraction, hazard perception, aggressive driving, cell phone use, and fatigue. PIRE has been an international leader and made seminal contributions in research to understand and prevent impaired driving and reduce harm consequent to it. PIRE has conducted transportation safety research for, among others, the Federal Highway Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, National Safety Council, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). More at www.pire.org.

About TCC

The Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC) includes 28 national groups - representing contractors, engineers, manufacturers, suppliers and labor unions - with a collective interest in federal transportation policy and funding. More at www.transportationconstructioncoalition.org.

Source: Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE)


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 32 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      This post is confusing Noah. Are deficient road conditions the leading cause of highway fatalities or of ALL road fatalities? You use highway and road as if they meant the same thing. They don't. The street I live on is not a highway. The roads I use to commute to work are.

      It makes sense to me that highway fatalities are connected to poor road condition while secondary road deaths are more likely to come from drunk driving, speeding, running stop signs and lights etc.
        • 5 Years Ago
        read the title of the post
      • 5 Years Ago
      Sounds fishy to me.
        • 5 Years Ago
        And they basically acknowledge that--it's "too hard" to modify driver behavior, so we should modify the driving environment instead. Some of it makes sense, but I'm unconvinced. We already spend billions a year modifying the vehicle to make it more accident-friendly. If someone is going too fast to hold a curve and hits a hard barrier, their solution is to make the barrier softer, or eliminate it. Reductio ad absurdem, "clearing more space adjacent to roadways" could mean doing away with tree-lined streets and highways. And like airbags and ABS, it's not clear the intended effect will occur, because the behavior factor they dismiss is that some people utilize the extra safety margin to engage in riskier behavior.

        "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."
      • 5 Years Ago
      Come on! Everyone knows that speeding is the number one cause of road deaths in the US. Poor roads, cell phone use, influence, poor drivers education contributes nothing to our deaths. It is all because of doing 56 in a 55.

      • 5 Years Ago
      Wow, what a concept: the idea that fixing the root problem might be cheaper than all of the resulting costs. It'll never happen. That would mean we'd have to consider that further reducing vehicle, industry, and power plant emissions might actually save money we otherwise have to spend treating childhood asthma and other respiratory issues. Heck no! Demand further cuts to infrastructure maintenance and cheap energy, consequences be damned. We MUST NOT admit that a little extra money spent now might provide a better AND cheaper future.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This study also shows that you can interpret statistics in various ways to make the point you want to make. Notice no state is on all three lists above.
      • 5 Years Ago
      We've known this for awhile haven't we?! the Autobahn is impeccably maintained and yet you can drive like a bat out of hell... and yet their record for safety is astounding next to ours.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I wouldn't put too much stock in this particular study, it being conducted on the behalf of a group of construction companies and all.

        But from a common-sense perspective, I don't doubt its conclusions. I was just in the U.K. for a few weeks, and every time I come back from there or most European countries, I'm temporarily aghast at the patchy, crumbling state of the freeways I drive home on, with their construction projects still sitting half-finished after 4-5 years. Dangerous? Only for the weakest percentile of drivers, I'm sure. But embarrassing? Definitely.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Also consider that the Germans are at least SOMEWHAT competent.

        That is more than I can say about most American motorists.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Their average drivers also have much more drivers training than ours get over here. Drivers in Germany are very good drivers, they obey the rules of the road, and they also don't travel in the passing lane (as many of our drivers do).
      • 5 Years Ago
      i wonder how many prius's you could fit in that pot hole
      • 5 Years Ago
      Speeding is NOT THE ROOT CAUSE of road deaths.

      It is the Very Sudden DECELERATION of a vehicle most likely caused by contact with a substantial non moving object once it left its intended roadway that is the most likely cause.

      Get the old left lane bandit people OFF the road - you know the ones who in their own mind, own the left lane because they have paid taxes for 100 years. The ones who sit in the fast lane on cruise control doing 55 MPH in a 60 or 65 MPH zone and hold up 5 fingers (twice - despite their arthritis) at you.

      Speeds in Europe are higher, but drivers are much more respectful and courteous of the traffic laws!

      Most of the same laws are already on the books here - but are rarely enforced.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Yes, the Germans pay for their Autobahn, but they pay for it in intelligent ways. It costs roughly 2000 Euros to get a license in that country and takes as much as 45 hours of instruction. I think my Nebraska operator's permit ran a whopping $23 and a fifteen minute drive-along. This serves two functions - 1) it helps fund infrastructure, and 2) it keeps people who have no business driving off the road. If you pay that dearly to get behind the wheel, you will be much more wary of doing anything that could result in the loss of said license and the expense of regaining it.

      The other key is that German traffic laws MAKE SENSE. In this country, any Sunday driver can putz around in the left-hand lane, holding up cars that may even be just trying to drive the legal limit. In Germany? You're pulled over and fined. Change lanes without signalling? Fined. Car not roadworthy? Fined. Drive drunk? Lose your license on the first offense. There would be millions of dollars in legitimate fines to help cover the costs of improving our roads, but we have such lax laws on things that really do matter when it comes to safe driving. The thing that never ceases to amaze me is how inside of neighborhoods where children are playing in the streets, you almost NEVER see cops running speed traps, but there isn't a day that goes by that I don't see a dozen people pulled over on I-470 because they were going 70 in a 65 and not endangering a single person.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Funny, I always thought crashes were caused by poor driver decision making and lack of skill. It is the driver's responsibility to account for the condition of the road. You can complain all you want about the condition of the roads you travel, but all you have in your control is the quality of your driving. Looking at the financial situations in many states, we had better get used to poorly maintained roads.
      • 5 Years Ago
      yeah... that slight gap might cause a few drivers to loose control of their vehicles...
        • 5 Years Ago
        Lose control? More like lose their vehicles... lol
      • 5 Years Ago
      @Willem B

      "read the title of the post"

      I did. I also read the post. Noah used the words, roadway, street or roads a dozen times. He used the word highway twice. Thus the confusion.
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