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American Automobile Association (“AAA”) put out a report,
AAA report 2011.pdf, detailing the various costs that society suffers as a result of the clogged
arteries and highways around our nation. The report caught my eye for
two reasons. First, the report included my hometown, Atlanta, Georgia,
as one of its study sites. Unfortunately for all of us living in the metro
Atlanta region, traffic is an unpleasant part of life here. The second
reason the report was important to me relates to what I do for a job.
I am a lawyer who handles car accident lawsuits, so I was very struck
by this conclusion:

Most Americans would be surprised to learn the societal costs associated
with motor vehicle crashes significantly exceed the costs of congestion.

As a personal injury lawyer, I represent clients who have been in car crashes,
and as an attorney I see firsthand the high costs of traffic wrecks, in
terms of deaths, injuries, disrupted lives, lost wages, etc. Many of these
costs can be recouped in a car wreck lawsuit, but AAA points out a large
number of costs that are borne by society, and are not part of a lawsuit.
I have done several entries on those costs of traffic.

Today I want to talk about what the report tells us about traffic, and
even more importantly, car wrecks, in the “Atlanta – Sandy
Springs – Marietta, Georgia” area that was included in the
study. I will refer to the whole area as “Atlanta Metro” for short.

The report grouped cities by their size. The report listed Atlanta’s
population as 5,475,213, which placed the Atlanta Metro area into the
largest category, cities that are “Very Large (Over three million)”.
Fourteen other metro areas were placed in that category: Boston, Chicago,
Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia,
Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

During the one-year period of the study, the Atlanta Metro region had 498
fatalities from car crashes, and the individual and societal cost of these
deaths from car accidents was $2,988,000,000. An absolutely astounding
62,263 people were injured in car accidents. The cost imposed by these
injuries was $7,845,000,000. In sheer terms, the cost of injuries was
more than double the cost of fatalities. But the number of injuries far,
far exceeded the number of fatalities. In fact, the number of fatalities
was less than 1% of the number of injuries.

According to AAA, deaths and injuries from car crashes cost the Atlanta
metro area, and society, $10,833,000,000. The report explains that when
the cost is spread across the entire population of Atlanta, traffic accidents
cost each of us $1979. By contrast, congestion cost Atlanta $2,727,000,000,
or $649 each.

The costs of car accidents in Atlanta were unusually high. In general:

“For very large urban areas, crash costs are nearly double those
of congestion. In other words, for every dollar spent on congestion in
very large urban areas, $1.92 is spent on crashes.”

In Atlanta, as a whole we paid 3.97 times as much for car wrecks as we
did for congestion. Per person, we paid 3.05 times as much for car accidents
as for congestion. (The numbers seem a little off from the raw data about
the costs because AAA had to pull the statistics about congestion from
a different database than the statistics about the car accidents.) In
Atlanta, then, car wrecks are costing us much more than congestion is.
I see some of the most obvious costs – like medical bills, lost
wages, etc., as a
car accident lawyer, but many of these costs are buried in city budgets and societal losses
that are not part of any lawsuit and are not covered by any car insurance.


Lee’s peers have named her a Georgia SuperLawyer every year for two decades.