Austin Transportation’s Vision Zero team uses comprehensive crash costs to measure the impact of traffic crashes in our community.

What they represent

Economic costs resulting from traffic crashes can be quantified in financial terms (e.g., medical bills, lost wages). Quality of life costs resulting from traffic crashes (e.g., physical pain, emotional suffering) are inherently immeasurable. However, national guidance exists to help local transportation agencies quantify the estimated quality of life impacts of a crash in financial terms.

To measure the total societal cost of a traffic crash, we combine its associated economic cost and quality of life cost. The resulting total figure represents the comprehensive crash cost.

How we determine them

The National Safety Council (NSC) and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provide nationally recognized guidance regarding comprehensive crash cost calculation. Austin’s Vision Zero team applies their methodologies to analyze the impacts of crashes occurring in Austin.

The NSC quantifies the economic costs of a traffic crash through measuring material consequences such as:

  • Medical expenses
  • Emergency services
  • Vehicle damage
  • Property damage
  • Wage loss
  • Market productivity loss
  • Household productivity loss
  • Administrative expenses
  • Insurance administration
  • Legal costs
  • Congestion/travel delay

The NSC quantifies the quality of life costs for people impacted by a crash through measuring “quality-adjusted life years” (QALYs). QALYs are determined using a statistical method based on empirical studies on the value people place on reducing their safety and health risks.

Austin’s Vision Zero team uses NSC and FWHA guidance to adjust the combined comprehensive crash cost values according to injury severity, inflation, and the ratio of injuries from crashes in the local area.

Why they matter

We are not attempting to place a dollar value on human life or assign an arbitrary number to the pain of losing a loved one through utilizing comprehensive crash costs. These measures are simply one tool for understanding the impact of car crashes on our community and illustrating the value of transportation safety projects.

Comprehensive crash costs also provide a consistent method for comparing the impacts of past crashes and predicting the impacts of future crashes in our community. They serve as a planning tool to help staff identify locations where engineering interventions should be prioritized and compare which safety treatment options may have the biggest impact. Examples of recent projects that comprehensive crash costs analyses have informed include 13 High-Injury Roadway sections, Congress Avenue improvements, Longhorn Dam improvements, and 2018 Bond Vision Zero/Transportation Safety projects.