We spend somewhere between 3,000 and 6 million hours of our lifetimes sitting in traffic. Ok, maybe it just seems that way. But as much as we fret over how much productivity we lose to traffic jams, and how much stress we tick away from our life clocks, it turns out that crashing is way, way worse, for both consumers as well as the economy.
It’s an interesting exercise: What costs the economy more, the constant daily drudgery of congestion, or the sharp, once-in-a-blue-moon shock of a traffic accident? Turns out, the annual nationwide cost of crashing is $299.5 billion, more than three times the $97.7 billion cost of being stuck in traffic again. A study from the American Automobile Association and consulting firm Cambridge Systematics takes into account the average cost of a crash that includes medical services, property damage, diminished quality of life, fatalities, and wages lost from missed days at work—based on the Federal Highway Administration’s values, as well as in and around metropolitan areas.
The results were dramatic: the costs of accidents trumped lost from congestion in every metropolitan area studied. In areas of over three million people, crashes cost twice as much, and in smaller urban cities of less than 500,000 people, the cost of crashes were six times the cost of congestion (owing to the fact that there simply isn’t as much traffic).
The costs of congestion stem from lost hours at work from traffic delays, right past 9 o’ clock. As aggravating as that sounds—and $97.7 billion is nothing to sneer at—the fact that 33,000 people are killed every year by traffic accidents (or 635 people per week) is a far more pressing issue than being late for work.