Crashes and congestion costly

Congestion. It's irritating, whether it's in your nose or on your roadways.

And it seems to bother motorists more than another nasty fact of life on the road -- that annually about 43,000 people die and 3 million more are injured in crashes on our nation's roadways.

Since the number of mangled bodies doesn't seem to inspire politicians, professionals or the public, AAA, the driver advocacy group, commissioned a study to focus on what seems to matters most: money.

The report -- entitled "Crashes versus congestion: What's the cost to society?" -- drew an obvious conclusion: Crashes cost us a lot.

But what wasn't obvious was how much more crashes cost us than congestion, even though we complain about the latter a whole lot more.

Crashes cost about $164 billion a year, more than two times the $67 billion cost of sitting in traffic, according to the report.

The report put a dollar figure on the medical, emergency and police services, property damage, lost productivity and quality of life costs.

The bill for crashes locally comes to almost $2.7 billion a year, ranking the Las Vegas Valley as the costliest metropolitan areas for our population group, said AAA Nevada spokesman Michael Geeser. Las Vegas ranks higher in cost per crash than San Diego, Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Cincinnati, despite our smaller population.

It works out to be about $1,572 per Las Vegan. The cost for congestion by comparison was only about $400 per person.

So where does the money go?

The first cost most people think of is the lawyers. But there's more societal costs than just attorney fees.

There's the police, firefighters, and medical crews who respond to the scene. There's the tow truck driver and cleanup crew. There's the insurance investigators and case workers. And public works folks who have to fix damaged light poles and retainer walls.

There are the doctors and nurses and the time spent in hospitals.

And don't forget the tests and X-rays. Then there is the astronomical cost of surgeries.

And once the lawyers get involved, so do the courts.

And if you survive the wreck, you get to go home. And the cost can soar even higher.

That's where Shelby Richards comes in.

He owns North Valley Medical Supply with his family in North Las Vegas. They supply medical equipment for those in need. About 20 percent of his customers were injured in crashes, he said.

The price for medical equipment is pretty high. Someone injured in an accident can pay $20,000 to $50,000 for that equipment, which includes wheelchairs, bed pans, bathing chairs, hospital beds that move up and down, and the ventilators and suction machines, Richards said. There are bandages and specially made shoes, too. Plus home visits by health aids and nurses.

Most people "are pretty shocked," when they find out the cost, Richards said. Especially if they realize their insurance won't pay for the equipment.

That's when the costs fall back on all of us, because folks without the means to pay for it then apply for Medicaid, Richards said. And, "the prices keep climbing."

It takes years to pay off these bills.

Meanwhile, by pointing out the cost, the folks at AAA are hoping lawmakers and the public will recognize vehicle crashes for what they are: a public health threat as serious as any epidemic.

"We know the kinds of things that work," Geeser said. "Tough laws, consistent and certain law enforcement, strict penalties, performance-based behavioral programs and targeted messaging."

But it also means better education in the community, Geeser said.

We "need greater collaboration between the traffic safety community and the public health community to develop more effective ways of getting people to understand the consequences of their driving behavior and change it for the better," he said.

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call the Road Warrior at 387-2904, or e-mail him at or Please include your phone number.