Congestion versus Collisions Costs

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Sitting in traffic and getting into crashes both cost you money. Which costs more? Linda Gorman of AAA Arizona will discuss the repercussions of both.

Ted Simons: Getting into a traffic accident can cost you money. But sitting in traffic can cost money too. Question, which costs more? Here with the answer is Linda Gorman of Triple A Arizona. Thanks for joining us. Give us an answer. Which costs more?

Linda Gorman: Traffic crashes cost more. In fact, in Phoenix, three times more than congestion, which is pretty surprising. I think most people think what do you mean, I sit in traffic all day, every morning, but in fact, crashes are the true bigger cost to society.

Ted Simons: It would seem as though crashes were the bigger cost, but we're faced with congestion so much and we think about how much time is lost. How much productivity is lost. You start emphasizing it too much.

Linda Gorman: Exactly. Congestion, if you're in a bigger city especially you start to see congestion costs creep up. Even in Phoenix it costs an average person about $600 a year. Crashes cost the same individual $1500 a year. And that doesn't even mean -- you don't even have to drive. Even if you don't drive, you're still paying some of those costs through increased insurance premiums, medical care, all those types of things that are associated with crashes that we don't necessarily think about.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask how you assign costs for these -- start with crashes. Emergency services, these sorts of things?

Linda Gorman: All of these things impact our pocketbook at the end of the day. Things like emergency services, increased medical costs, increased health care costs, increased insurance costs which can be spread out, even if you're not -- you didn't have a traffic crash this year, for instance, if a lot of people did in an area, you may be subsidizing those costs. And things like lost time off of work, if you were in a crash. Property damage, personal damage, so all of those things factor into the cost of traffic crashes, and in Phoenix specifically that's about $1500 a person per year.

Ted Simons: Now, how do you assign costs to congestion?

Linda Gorman: Congestion costs are a little more fuzzy. Things like lost productivity, lost time, missed appointments, but then also real costs like increase in gas that you're wasting as you're sitting in traffic, increased car maintenance costs that are associated with sitting in traffic, or spending more fuel. So those types of things are what's included in the congestion costs. Interestingly, as cities tend to get larger, crash costs go down, but congestion cost Goss up.

Ted Simons: What do you want to see as far as Arizona leaders are concerned with basically making roads safer to knock it off with these traffic accidents?

Linda Gorman: Absolutely. Congestion seems to be at the top of people's mind, but when you look at crashes, we're seeing about three times the cost of crashes versus congestion. What that tells us and what we want policymakers to do is to make transportation safety a national priority. So we need to make our roads safer, put in stricter laws to make people safer on the roadways. Thereby we'll end up stop footing these huge bills.

Ted Simons: Is this the kind of thing that gets the ears of lawmakers, or something that flies under the radar so to speak?

Linda Gorman: You know, there's been tremendous progress made. We have a seat belt law in most every state now, if not a primary, a secondary. That has saved countless lives. We've also made strides in other areas, speed limit laws, child passenger safety laws, but there's still work to do especially here in Arizona. We still have challenges.

Ted Simons: Are the challenges more here than elsewhere? How do we compare to other parts of the country?

Linda Gorman: In terms of crash costs we're right about the national average $1500 per person in Phoenix, the average is about $1522. Miami in terms of the large metropolitan cities, that's where you'll spend the most. That's about $2,000 a person.

Ted Simons: How come?

Linda Gorman: You know, I don't know. Miami is a pretty populated city, but it could be people drive faster in Miami, I don't know. It could be health care costs are more than they are in Phoenix. Inversely San Francisco is about a thousand dollars a person. So when -- that's when you look at the large metropolitan areas. Phoenix it's right in the middle.

Ted Simons: The larger the metropolitan area the congestion costs go up, and the smaller the area, the accident costs go up?

Linda Gorman: crash cost, but in fact, what happens is you have more traffic on the road, which increases your congestion co, but more traffic on the road decreases the type of severe crashes that don't have a lot of fatalities, serious injuries, serious property damage claims, and those types of things, those really severe crashes are the type of things that cause those costs to go up. So while we still have crashes in very densely populated urban areas, they tend to be less severe crashes.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Why did you look at this? Why compare congestion with accidents?

Linda Gorman: Because there is that false mind-set, people think congestion costs so much money, it's so much wasted time, wasted productivity. There's a lot of emphasis on reducing congestion and it's not that it isn't important, but traffic crashes are shown to be three times more important in terms of saving lives and saving money. So we want the focus to be on increasing laws, and strengthening laws that can save more lives.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, getting the message out, I know you do a lot of public service type stuff, but this probably caught the public's attention.

Linda Gorman: Absolutely. In Arizona we do have a seat belt law, but it's still secondary. We don't have a distracted driving law A. text messaging law, we still have one of the state's weakest child passenger safety laws. Those things, we want policymakers to realize there are true costs to everyone in society.

Ted Simons: All right. Good stuff. Thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

Linda Gorman: thank you for having me.

Linda Gorman:American Automobile Association, Arizona

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