Cost To Drive Just Went Up By $871 Billion

This is the breakdown for how we pay the not so hidden costs of car crashes.

According to a recent study by the National Highway Safety Administration, in 2010, car crashes cost our country $871 billion, or about $900 for every man, woman and child. Of course, none of our children pay taxes or insurance premiums, so the real cost to folks like you and me, is much higher, whether you drive a car or not. Remember that figure the next time someone tells you people who ride bicycles or take transit don’t pay their fair share.

It is difficult to appreciate how much money $871 billion is. To put it in perspective, according to the Us Dept. of Transportation and the Congressional Budget Office, that same year, federal, state and local governments combined spent somewhere between $100 and $160 billion, and that included $12 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars (which came from the general fund). Other taxpayer watchdog groups claim a combined total of just over $300 billion for highways, bridges and local roads.

Everyone agrees that gas taxes and other user fees contribute less than half of what the feds spend in the Highway Trust Fund. The rest is made up from other sources, such as general fund appropriations, bonds, tolls and property taxes. And even after taxpayers bailed out it out with another $10 billion transfer earlier this year, the Highway Trust Fund is projected to begin running a deficit this summer, sometime in August. Given the gridlock in Washington, D.C. and the current political dislike of increased taxes, I suspect our elected leaders will kick the can down the road with another short-term injection of funds from the general fund rather than solve our transportation funding crisis.

This is the projection for when the federal highway trust fund will begin running a deficit.

Lets put this in round numbers. Including crashes, we spend somewhere north of a trillion dollars a year so people can drive, but we only collect about $50 billion a year in fuel taxes and other user fees. Let’s say transit gets $10 billion (rounding up), and bicycling and walking only get about $650 million. That amounts to less than 2% of the Federal Highway Administration budget, and only .065%, literally a drop in the ocean if you include the cost of crashes.

If the fiscal conservatives in Washington actually wanted to save taxpayers money, wouldn’t they fund bicycling, walking and transit? When you factor in the health benefits, bicycling and walking have a net positive economic impact. To quantify it, the Danes figure one mile on a bike generates a $.42 economic gain to society, while one mile driving is a $.20 loss. Transit might still be more expensive per passenger mile than driving a car when you compare infrastructure costs, but it is way cheaper if you factor in the cost of crashes.

But hey, this is still America, right? Despite the fact that people are driving less, if most Americans still prefer to jump in a car by themselves to go anywhere, even trips of a mile or less, that is their right, right? Who cares how much it costs, right? If we just stopped subsidizing transit and made those self-righteous bicyclists pay their way, our transportation funding problems would go away, right?



About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

6 thoughts on “Cost To Drive Just Went Up By $871 Billion

  1. If we just stopped subsidizing transit and made those self-righteous bicyclists pay their way, our transportation funding problems would go away, right?

    Nothing is wrong with transit. The problem is bicyclists think they’re more privileged then other road users, and expect motorists should treat them specially, I thought bicycles were suppose to be under motor vehicle rules…hmm
    You got your vulnerable user law partially, which technically you got a special law passed just for bicycles, amongst others. Now lets think about that. Everytime a motorist complains about a bicyclist, the bicyclist screams: you’re fat and lazy and need to get on a bike, or else if a motorist points out: hey its dangerous to be riding in a 55mph highway lane, it’s WE HAVE THE SAME RIGHTS AS A MOTORIST! Or else it’s share the road! Now, if you really were bound by the same rights as a motorist, you shouldn’t have a “special vulnerable user law” then should you?
    Lets be honest here. I just want to add, if you want penalty enhancers, that is really special treatment, and you should do some type of deal with motorists. Like maybe a vest with assigned numbers to be able to identify the trouble makers ( this would also be great for pedestrians, and joggers).
    Also, to bring up prohibiting bicycles on highways ( since most of the deaths you have spot lighted seemed to occur on a highway) “for safety” ( remember you passed the vulnerable user law “for safety”) I think I will contact my state and senate assemblies about these issues. I just had a thought, maybe putting aside your own agenda, views, and actually listening, and taking motorists concerns and addressing them might help.

    • Brian, I think you missed the sarcasm in that paragraph and the entire point of the blog post.

        • But your comment has nothing to do with the information presented in this post, it completely ignores the point of the real and very high cost of motor vehicle crashes to society. It is just a random rant about bicycling and a completely different issue.

          Since this is still a democracy, I would encourage you to contact your elected officials about any issue that concerns you, but as far as our blog goes, you should move this comment to a past blog post we wrote about vulnerable users if you want to be part of a meaningful discussion.

          • I see trying to actually bring this issues up is pointless, I guess if you want to label it a rant and dismiss the concerns then I will take them else where to someone who will actually listen to them and not insult me.

          • Sorry if you found my reply insulting. I was trying to be very direct because you didn’t seem to understand my previous reply. If you want to discuss the vulnerable user law, please move your comment to a previous post about vulnerable users. If you want to comment on this blog post and the $871 billion cost to society for motor vehicle crashes, I am happy to dialog with you under this post.

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