Big Impact of Nonfatal Car Crashes

Nonfatal car crashes were expensive in terms of health dollars and lost time at work

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Car accidents are costly. In addition to the cost of damage to cars, a high price tag comes with people being hurt, spending time in the hospital or taking time off from work.

Researchers have just put a price on how much nonfatal crashes cost the health care system.

That cost includes health needs from emergency visits and ambulance rides and the loss of expected earnings, wrote the authors of a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report.

Gwen Bergen, PhD, of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and colleagues wrote the report.

The authors noted that, for every motor vehicle crash death in 2012, eight people spent time in the hospital and 100 people were treated and released from emergency rooms.

The study authors looked at data on injuries from vehicle accidents and made estimations based on it.

In 2012, there were more than 2 million visits to ERs due to nonfatal vehicle accidents — at an estimated lifetime medical cost of $18.4 billion, the writers noted.

They said that people could avoid many injuries if they wore seat belts and took safe driving measures like not drinking and driving.

They found that children up to age 14 were those least often hurt in car accidents, and teens and young adults (up to age 29) were hurt most often.

About 7.5 percent of those brought to the ER after a crash were admitted. The elderly were those most likely to be kept in the hospital, the authors noted, adding that many older people are slower to recover than young people.

The average hospital stay after a car accident was 5.6 days. Americans spent more than 1 million collective days in the hospital for crash injuries in 2012.

The study authors estimated that each visit to the ER after a car crash cost $3,362, and each hospitalization cost $56,674. Up to 90 percent of the health costs came from needs in the first 18 months after the accident.

The authors did not have data on seat belt use or drinking and driving, but these factors played a role in the findings, the authors noted.

The study authors estimated that “54,000 serious injuries could be prevented annually if all occupants wore seat belts, and 82,000 serious injuries could be prevented if all drivers had a blood alcohol content of [less than 0.08 grams per deciliter].” A man would have to consume about five alcoholic drinks in two hours, or four drinks for a woman, to achieve this blood alcohol level.

Adam C. Powell, PhD, a health economist and President of Payer+Provider Syndicate, said that “this study helps highlight the societal cost that results from nonfatal motor vehicle crashes. The study examines both the direct cost of medical care, as well as the indirect cost resulting from lost work. While the numbers are large, this study does not even attempt to place a value on the pain and suffering caused by experiencing vehicle-related injuries."

This research was published Oct. 7 on the CDC website.


Review Date: 
October 9, 2014
Last Updated:
October 13, 2014