Motor Vehicle Crash Injuries Are Frequent, Costly, Preventable

More than 2.5 million people went to the emergency department (ED) – and nearly 200,000 of them were hospitalized – because of motor vehicle crash injuries in 2012, according to the latest report by the CDC. For every person killed in a motor vehicle crash, eight people were hospitalized and 100 people were treated and released from the ED. Americans spend more than one million days in the hospital each year from crash injuries.


Lifetime medical costs for these crash injuries totaled $18 billion. This includes approximately $8 billion for those who were treated in the ED and released and $10 billion for those who were hospitalized. Lifetime work lost because of 2012 crash injuries cost an estimated $33 billion.


“In 2012, nearly 7,000 people went to the emergency department every day due to car crash injuries,” said the CDC Principal Deputy Director, Ileana Arias, Ph.D. “Motor vehicle crash injuries occur all too frequently and have health and economic costs for individuals, the health care system, and society. We need to do more to keep people safe and reduce crash injuries and medical costs.”


The report’s key findings include:


  • On average, each crash-related ED visit costs about $3,300 and each hospitalization costs about $57,000 over a person’s lifetime.
  • More than 75 percent of costs occur during the first 18 months following the crash injury.
  • Teens and young adults (15-29 years old) are at especially high risk for motor vehicle crash injuries, accounting for nearly one million crash injuries in 2012 (38 percent of all crash injuries that year).
  • One-third of adults older than 80 years old who were injured in car crashes were hospitalized – the highest of any age group.
  • There were almost 400,000 fewer ED visits and 5,700 fewer hospitalizations from motor vehicle crash injuries in 2012 compared to 2002. This equals $1.7 billion in avoided lifetime medical costs and $2.3 billion in avoided work loss costs.


The CDC analyzed ED visits due to crash injuries in 2012 using the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System-All Injury Program and the Nationwide Inpatient Sample. The number and rate of all crash injury ED visits, treated and released visits, and hospitalized visits were estimated, as were the associated number of hospitalized days and lifetime medical costs.


“Motor vehicle crashes and related injuries are preventable,” said Gwen Bergen, PhD, MPH, MS, behavioral scientist in the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “Although much has been done to help keep people safe on the road, no state has fully implemented all the interventions proven to increase the use of car seats, booster seats, and seat belts; reduce drinking and driving; and improve teen driver safety.”


The best way to keep people safe and reduce medical costs is to prevent crashes from happening in the first place. But if a crash does occur, many injuries can still be avoided through the use of proven interventions. More can be done at every level to prevent crashes and reduce injuries, but state-level changes are especially effective.


State officials can consider taking the following actions to prevent motor vehicle crashes and related injuries:


  • Using primary enforcement seat belt laws that cover everyone in the car. A primary enforcement law means a police officer can pull over and ticket a driver or passenger for not wearing a seat belt. A secondary enforcement law means a police officer can ticket a driver or passenger for not wearing a seat belt only if the driver has been pulled over for some other offense.
  • Having child passenger restraint laws that require car seat or booster seat use for children age 8 and under, or until 57 inches tall, the recommended height for proper seat belt fit.
  • Using sobriety checkpoints, where police systematically stop drivers to check if they are driving under the influence of alcohol.
  • Requiring ignition interlocks for people convicted of drinking and driving, starting with their first conviction. Ignition interlocks check and analyze a driver's breath and prevent the car from starting if alcohol is detected.
  • Using comprehensive graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems, which help new drivers gain skills in low-risk conditions. As drivers move through the different stages, they receive more driving privileges, such as driving at night or with passengers. Every state has GDL, but the specific rules vary.
  • Supporting traffic safety laws with media campaigns and visible police presence.
  • Linking medical and crash data to better understand why crashes happen, the economic cost of those crashes, and how to prevent future crashes.


Released in conjunction with this report is the CDC’s new interactive calculator, called the Motor Vehicle PICCS (Prioritizing Interventions and Cost Calculator for States). This tool will help state decision makers prioritize and select from a suite of 12 effective motor vehicle injury prevention interventions. It is designed to calculate the expected number of injuries prevented and lives saved at the state level, as well as the costs of implementation, while taking into account the state’s available resources. A fact sheet for each intervention and a final report with methodologies and cost-effectiveness analyses are included. The Motor Vehicle Prioritizing Interventions and Cost Calculator for States is available online.


See the CDC Announcement


See the CDC Report