A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study places the annual cost of automobile crashes at $871 Billion. That’s a figure so large, it’s almost unimaginable. Although huge, this money is nothing compared to the suffering and loss of life from car crashes. As the U.S. Transportation Secretary said:
No amount of money can replace the life of a loved one, or stem the suffering associated with motor vehicle crashes.
The NHTSA study recorded some 32,999 highway deaths and 3.9 Million injuries in just one year. According to the study, just three driver behaviors accounted for over half of all automobile accident costs. These bad driver behaviors and my comments on each are:
- SPEEDING. The NHTSA study indicates speeding accounted for 21% of the total costs of automobile accidents. Most people think of speeding as driving beyond the posted speed limit. It is. But, that is not the only type of speeding. Speeding also includes driving too fast for highway conditions. In my practice, we frequently see accidents caused by driving too fast for conditions. For example, we recently concluded a case involving an eighteen wheeler traveling far too fast on a rural, poorly lit stretch of Interstate highway in Alabama. While the truck driver may have been able to stop his rig during daylight hours. This was not the case at night. The truck driver was overrunning his lights. Commercial truck drivers are instructed not to overrun their lights at night. Yet, this driver was in a hurry to deliver his load and was driving dangerously. He could not see and stop in time to avoid a disabled vehicle in his path – forever changing the lives of an innocent family. We often see crashes caused by drivers going too fast at night, on wet roads or in foggy conditions.
- DRUNK DRIVING. The NHTSA study indicates drunk driving crashes account for 18% of the total economic losses from automobile accidents. This figure is less than I would have expected. I believe the figure has probably trended lower due to the efforts of law enforcement and groups like MADD to stop drunk driving on our highways. I also believe many accidents are caused by a driver impaired from something other than alcohol, such as pain pills or other narcotics. And, those causes are probably underestimated as many drivers impaired by a narcotic are not cited.
- DISTRACTION. The NHTSA study indicates distracted driving accounts for 17% of the total economic losses from automobile accidents. I don’t agree with this percentage. I think distracted driving is a factor in many more accidents than indicated. It’s an opinion I’ve discussed in earlier blog posts. Also, for more information on distracted driving, I have devoted a section of the law firm website to the topic. I truly believe driver distraction is a factor in a much larger percentage of car crashes. I believe the statistics don’t report the complete problem as it is much more difficult for law enforcement to prove or cite distracted drivers after a crash. Compare distracted driving to drunken driving. When the police officer arrives at a crash scene, an impaired driver will likely still be impaired. Yet, a driver distracted by his or her cell phone may deny any accusation of distraction. Proof can be difficult.
Another observation from the NHTSA study is that actual medical bills are but a small fraction of the losses and damages accident victims suffer. Many settlement mill law firms look solely at the medical bills, simply accept the insurance company’s low settlement offer based on those bills, and fail to represent their clients fully. That’s wrong. The damage suffered by accident victims often goes far beyond medical bills. In many cases, other types of damages far outweigh the medical bills. The losses suffered by accident victims in terms of lost work or wages, pain, suffering, loss of mobility, physical impairment and other losses are tremendous. And, a good personal injury attorney must consider, develop and present these important losses in an effort to maximize the client’s recovery.