Lately Americans have been besieged by a number of economic worries: rising gas prices, a looming recession, the mortgage industry meltdown, and joblessness. However, according to AAA, there’s another concern that needs to be added to this list, the rising cost of traffic crashes.

Cambridge Systematics Inc., which conducted research on behalf of the Association, reported that crashes cost U.S. motorists $164.2 billion annually, or approximately $1,051 per person. In fact, some of the largest cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, suffer billions of dollars in accident costs each year. The total cost for the New York metropolitan is $18 billion a year, or about $962 per person. In Los Angeles, the cost is over $10 billion a year, or $817 per person.

This isn’t to imply that traffic crashes don’t take an economic toll on smaller communities. Residents of smaller cities actually shouldered a larger per-person burden than their big city counterparts. Crashes in the Little Rock-North Little Rock region in Arkansas cost $2,258 per person. In Pensacola, Florida, the cost was $1,772 a person, and in Columbia, South Carolina, the price tag averaged $1,568 a person.

Based on the data the study revealed, the AAA had some specific recommendations for lawmakers across the country that would help ease the financial burden:

  • Make safety more of a priority in transportation planning
  • Enact tougher laws for drunken and impaired driving
  • Pass primary enforcement seat belt laws, which permit law enforcement officers to stop motorists if their only offense is failing to use their seat belt.

Legislators in 26 states and the District of Columbia have primary enforcement laws. The remaining states have secondary enforcement laws. This type of legislation only allows law enforcement officers to issue tickets for seat belt violations if motorists are stopped for other offenses. New Hampshire has no seat belt law for adults.

The Association noted that in addition to the high monetary cost for traffic crashes; there is also a significant cost in terms of human life. Almost 43,000 people die each year on the nation's roads, and the AAA believes that this statistic warrants treating traffic crashes as the public health threat they are.