Recently, motorists heading westbound on Route 280 near West Orange, New Jersey were stuck in traffic. The reason: a car had flipped following a motor vehicle crash. The crash-which sent one person to the hospital-also shut down three lanes of traffic, causing slight delays for commuters. Traffic congestion is a common problem in urban areas, but so are motor vehicle accidents. Recently, AAA published a study comparing the economic impact of crashes and congestion costs on various states and the results for New Jersey were staggering.
State and federal governments work hard to improve our nation’s roadways and reduce crash-related fatalities. The AAA study “Crashes vs. Congestion – What’s the cost to society?” was devised to help in this mission.
Automobile crashes are more than public safety issues. They are also economic issues. Motor vehicle crashes cost an average of $1,522 per person annually, as compared to the cost of traffic congestion at $590 per person each year. The federal price tags for highway deaths and injuries are $6 million and $126,000, respectively. For New Jersey, the AAA study revealed that traffic accidents cost the state $38.7 million in related costs even as traffic congestion tops $14 million annually.
While a number of initiatives and laws have helped to reduce traffic fatalities over the past several years, 2011 marks a troubling trend in the Garden State. In 2010, 556 people died on the state’s highways. This number represented the state’s lowest numbers since 1940; however, at the start of this year, the New Jersey State Police reported that crash-related fatalities has increased over 10 percent compared to the same period in 2010. In July 2011, 314 people had died on state roadways. By October 2011, the death toll stood at 503.
And, with accidents comes congestion, like that associated with the Route 280 accident. Crashes limit the mobility of other travelers by blocking travel lanes and leaving debris in the roadways. Accidents are often distractions for other drivers and may spark delays in traffic flow when rescue, fire or even law enforcement personnel are called to the scene. This can be a recipe for more crashes and further delays.
Most accidents are preventable. While old methods of reducing the risk of accidents may still be valuable, new safety interventions, collaboration and even data collection systems may be necessary to solve the mingled issues of cost and public safety.