I have never thought about the correlation between severity of injury in car accidents and the amount of congestion on the highway. But it certainly makes sense that (1) traffic jams lead to more accidents because the traffic is stop-and-go, and (2) high traffic means low speeds which means less serious accidents.
A new study bears this out. Washington, D.C., which includes Maryland for the study, has the worst congestion in the United States. But the cost of car accidents is low in comparison to the rest of the nation. Some car accident lawyers like to pretend that there is no correlation between impact and severity of injury because people do get seriously hurt and killed in accidents with little property damage. But common sense tells us that serious accidents are likely to lead to more serious injuries and more deaths.
The overall national cost of accidents – which includes the fender benders, the medevacs, the lawsuits, and the lives lost, was estimated at a whopping $300 billion a year. Statistics like this tend to be a little dry but $300 billion is an amazing amount of money.
Of that, $7.4 billion is attributed to the roads in and around Washington. Researchers concluded that the cost per capita of a crash in this region is $1,363, compared with a national figure of $1,522. Why? Because the slow-speed accidents of cars caught in congestion do less damage, and cause fewer deaths and injuries, than those that occur at highway speeds.
To obtain these figures, researchers did a little more than just add medical bills to property damage bills. Researchers used “sophisticated” federal guidelines that place a value on a lost life, and consider lost wages, time lost on the job, effect on the quality of life and other factors. To draw their local conclusions, researchers examined federal crash data from the Washington region. That area, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, includes the District, and parts of Maryland and Virginia. Specifically, in Maryland, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County. The areas of Virginia included were the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park, as well as the counties of Arlington, Charles, Fairfax, and Loudon. In 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recorded 350 traffic deaths in this region, with another 42,566 injured.
But again, those who sit in countless hours of traffic (estimated to be more than three days a year) may not agree with the “silver-lining” argument because they focus on the fact that Maryland drivers have the longest average commute in the nation, thousands of whom drive to work in D.C. and Virginia. Just like when we see a big car accident on the side of the road we don’t allow ourselves to worry for the victims as much as worry about whether we are late for our appointments. But, intellectually, you can’t help but see less death and destruction as more than an ancillary byproduct of driving slower.