It’s easy to see the physical result of bent metal in a road accident – we are aware of the insurance costs to repair the vehicles – but there is a broader social cost which is often hidden. This is over £2 million for a fatal accident, £220,000 for a serious injury accident and £25,000 for a slight accident.
Components of social cost for an accident
Loss of productivity: a fatality means that the person cannot go on as a productive member of society, creating value. A significant injury could reduce a person’s ability to contribute to society and may come with a raft of other rehabilitation and ongoing medical costs. Even minor injury accidents can cause time off work.
Pain and suffering: there is a human cost of avoiding pain and suffering by people who have been injured, people who have lost someone in a fatal accident and people who have to help those who have been injured.
Medical costs: ambulances may be required to attend the accident. Ongoing medical care could be required for people in serious accidents. Even minor accidents could require a visit to a doctor or physiotherapist and serious or fatal accidents will have a large number of medical expenses related to hospital stays, surgery and ongoing rehabilitation.
Legal costs: the crown may choose to prosecute a driver who was at fault. If the driver goes to prison, the country bears the costs. Police and crash investigators may have to spend hours or days determining who was at fault. Engineers may have to be consulted to determine how to mitigate this risk in the future if the road design was at fault.
Property damage: crashes can result in damage to the road itself, posts and railings, traffic lights and street furniture and private property.
Environmental damage: crashes can cause fuel spills and air pollution. When vehicles are written off, a certain amount can’t be recycled.
Business interruption and business costs: if there are traffic delays this impacts on the productivity of hundreds or thousands of road users and businesses. Extra fuel is used on detours or while waiting. Flights can be missed, orders can go undelivered, overtime may have to be paid. Materials that were being transported could be damaged.
Miscellaneous costs: vehicles will have to be recovered. Funerals may have to be held. Police may have to hold a press conference.