Highway crashes cost the USA $871 billion a year, new study finds. Total includes both economic costs and societal harm. Speeding, DUI and distracted driving account for most of the damage.

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Highway crashes create an enormous economic toll on the lives of Americans, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says in a new study. The annual price tag for those crashes: $871 billion in economic loss and societal harm in 2010.

The total includes $277 billion in economic costs – nearly $900 for each person living in the USA – and $594 billion in societal harm from the loss of life and the pain and decreased quality of life because of injuries.

"No amount of money can replace the life of a loved one, or stem the suffering associated with motor vehicle crashes," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. "While the economic and societal costs of crashes are staggering, today's report clearly demonstrates that investments in safety are worth every penny used to reduce the frequency and severity of these tragic events."

A similar study in 2011 by auto club AAA found that each fatal crash in 99 urban areas arries an economic toll of about $6 million. That estimate was based on Federal Highway Administration data that place dollar values on 11 components: property damage; lost earnings; loss of household activities; medical costs; emergency services; travel delays; vocational rehabilitation; lost time at work; administrative costs; legal costs; and pain and lost quality of life.

NHTSA's study, "The Economic and Society Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, 2010," focuses on some of the behavioral factors that contributed to that year's 32,999 highway fatalities, 3.9 million injuries and 24 million damaged vehicles. It found that just three driver behaviors, speeding, drunken driving and distracted driving, accounted for 56% of the economic loss to the nation and 62% of the societal harm.

The breakdown:

•Speeding. Crashes involving vehicles exceeding the speed limit or going too fast for conditions accounted for 21% of the total economic loss and cost $59 billion. These crashes were responsible for $210 billion – or 24% -- of the overall societal harm.

•Drunken driving. Crashes caused by drivers under the influence of alcohol accounted for 18% of the total economic loss from automobile wrecks and cost the nation $49 billion. These crashes were responsible for $199 billion – or 23% -- of the overall societal harm.

•Distraction. Crashes involving a distracted driver accounted for 17% of the total economic loss and cost $46 billion. These crashes were responsible for $129 billion – or 15% -- of the overall societal harm.

"We want Americans to live long and productive lives, but vehicle crashes all too often make that impossible," said NHTSA's acting administrator, David Friedman. "This new report underscores the importance of our safety mission and why our efforts and those of our partners to tackle these important behavioral issues and make vehicles safer are essential to our quality of life and our economy."

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