Motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. every year have an economic toll of almost $1 trillion.
That includes $277 billion in actual cost, and an estimated $594 billion in "harm from the loss of life and the pain and decreased quality of life due to injuries," a new U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report said.
Studying crashes in the U.S. in 2010, NHTSA counted up 32,999 fatalities, 3.9 million non-fatal injuries and 24 million damaged vehicles in "The Economic and Societal Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes 2010."
The sweeping report takes in a lot of ground, particularly in calculating the "quality of life" losses. Among the factors considered in the direct losses of $277 billion, the report said, were $93 billion in lost productivity, $76 billion in property damage, $35 billion in medical expenses, and $28 billion in the costs of traffic-related congestion -- like traffic jams and increased air pollution.
The report concluded that drunk driving, speeding and "distraction" were key contributors.
Drunk driving alone, the report said, accounted for 18% of the total economic loss from motor vehicle crashes, costing the economy as much as $199 billion in direct and quality-of-life losses.
Speeding accounted for 21% of the total economic loss, responsible for as much as $210 billion in costs.
Distraction contributed another 17%.
The study concluded that the use of seat belts prevented 12,500 fatalities and 308,000 serious injuries, the study said, as well as $69 billion in medical care, lost productivity and other costs related to auto crash injuries. But the failure to wear seat belts caused $72 billion in losses.
The study also concluded, though, that driving cars has never been safer. In 2011, 32,367 people died in U.S. automobile accidents, the lowest rate since 1949. Fatality rates per vehicle miles traveled fell in 2011 to 1.1 fatality per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, down from 1.11 in 2010. In 1949, when there were fewer people driving cars that were much less safe to drive, the fatality rate was seven times higher.