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Missing the forest for all of the trees

the "forest" of traffic crashes is a dense one indeed

Sometimes the numbers are shocking. Humans do not have a very good grasp of statistics and numbers that are on a scale vastly larger than anything with which we have ordinary experience. We know a hundred is large, and anyone who lives to be 100 years old is seen as remarkable. We cannot really imagine 1000 years, as that is simply too far from our experience to be intelligible.

Motor vehicle-related crash deaths are another area where we have difficulty fully grasping the magnitude of the problem. We know, generally, that there are a lot of traffic fatalities. However, because most traffic accidents, as we charitably refer to them, only result in one or two deaths per incident, we fail to connect the dots of the thousands of crashes and recognize how they all add up.

But we spend a lot on safety, don't we?

Occasionally, we may hear discussions of spending on traffic safety as part of the federal or state budgets. They speak in terms of hundreds of millions of dollars, far beyond our comprehension, but we do understand they are large numbers. But the problem those dollars may be attempting to solve is far, far larger.

For instance, the federal government sends approximately $579 million every year to the states to fund safety programs operated at the state level. It seems like a lot of money and it is, but the scale of the problem it attempts to tackle is so much larger that even that amount may seem little more than a feeble effort.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that the cost of motor vehicle crashes on the U.S. economy in 2010 was about $242 billion. That is a really big number. However, being human, we really have no ability to comprehend such scale.

A billion is much larger than a million

One way to attempt to understand scale difference between a million and a billion is to note that in this example, it would take 417.96 years of federal spending on safety programs to equal one year's costs from traffic accidents. As a reminder, the U.S. has only been a nation for 233 years.

And that $242 billion? That number, in some respects, is an understatement. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTHSA) has estimated that the full economic cost of these crashes approaches almost $1 trillion dollars per year. They examined the numbers for 2010, which saw 32,999 deaths and 3.9 million individuals injured.

Thousands of deaths, but millions of injured

While the death toll is staggering, the millions of injured are often ignored. While some may escape with relatively minor injuries, a significant number will carry the scars, pain and diminished ability the rest of their lives.

While the direct costs of these crashes total the nearly $300 million amount, the full cost from the deaths, injuries, pain, lost income and diminished quality of life adds another $594 billion to the total.

In that perspective, it would take 1,504 years of safety spending to equal a single year's full economic cost.

When one follows the money, it is clear that while society, in general, considers motor vehicle crashes an inconvenience, it does not consider them a serious problem. Hope that you are never are involved in a serious motor vehicle crash, but if you are, make certain that you speak with an attorney who can ensure that you and your family obtain the compensation that will cover the full economic cost of the injury that you have suffered.

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