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Automobile crashes cost La. $5.69 billion in 2009

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Written by Zack Southwell
zsouthwell@thenewsstar.com  

Most of us correctly think of vehicle crashes in terms of the heavy human toll they take on the victims and survivors of those killed and injured. However, there is another important aspect of crashes — how much they cost society in terms of dollars and cents.

In Louisiana, highway crashes cost society an estimated $5.69 billion in 2009, according to the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. This figure includes myriad costs that are associated with a crash, such as medical treatment, loss of wages, litigation and property damage. Some of these costs are borne by the people involved in the crashes, their insurers and employers. However, taxpayers end up paying for significant portions of those costs through Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment payments and many other programs.

Alcohol is a leading cause of traffic crashes that result in deaths and injuries. In Louisiana in 2009, 48 percent of those killed were involved in alcohol-related crashes. Alcohol-related crashes in Louisiana cost an estimated $1.14 billion in 2009.

To put $5.69 billion in perspective, consider that Louisiana state government’s total spending budget for the coming fiscal year will be about $24.9 billion. The $5.69 billion cost figure for crashes breaks down to $1,991 for every licensed driver in Louisiana.

However, statistics showing the economic toll vehicle crashes cost to insurance companies do not exist.

Ed O’Brien, Deputy Commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Insurance, said the department did not have specific information on what DWIs cost insurance companies.

“Companies are not required to segregate that data for rate filing purposes,” O’Brien said.

Nationally, crashes cost society an estimated $230 billion in 2000. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that crashes annually cost $81 billion in lost productivity, $32.6 billion in medical expenses and $59 billion in property damage. NHTSA estimates that each critically injured crash survivor incurs an estimated $1.1 million in crash-related expenses over a lifetime — a figure that does not include the physical and psychological suffering of the victims and their families.

Under the state’s DWI statutes, every driver with a blood alcohol content above .08 percent, or impaired by illegal or nonprescribed drugs, is on the wrong side of the law and police are empowered to book him or her.

The mix of automobiles and alcohol has proven a lethal cocktail for Louisiana, more so than almost anywhere else in the U.S. According to the NHTSA, in 2007 and 2008 Louisiana drivers died at a higher rate per miles traveled in alcohol-impaired crashes than any other state except Montana and South Carolina. In 2009, 402, or about 49 percent, of traffic fatalities were believed to be alcohol-related, according to the Louisiana Highway Safety Research Group. The group stated about 362 of those fatalities had either consumed alcohol themselves or were driving with a person who had alcohol.

DWI laws are designed to punish drivers who continually put others at risk. The first two convictions are misdemeanors. The first carries fines from $300 to $1,000, imprisonment up to six months and suspends a driver’s license for 90 days. The second conviction fines offenders anywhere from $750 to $1,000, warrants a prison term from 30 days to six months and suspends a license for a year.

The third conviction is a felony and suspends a driver’s license for two years. It also carries a fine of $2,000 and a prison term from one to five years, with or without hard labor. The offender’s car can be sold at auction. Parts of the sentences for each can be suspended with community service, substance abuse evaluation and driver’s improvement school.

The fourth and each subsequent offense is a felony. Each imposes a prison term of 10 to 30 years and a fine of $5,000, and again the driver’s vehicle can be sold at auction.

LeBlanc said most vehicle accidents and the toll, both emotional and financial, they take on society are not mandatory.

“Most vehicle crashes are avoidable, which means much of the costs taxpayers and society in general bear are also avoidable,” LeBlanc said. “We all end up paying the terrible toll that is inflicted on us by those who insist on driving while impaired.”

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Written by demon53

April 11, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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