© Copyright 2003 by the Wyoming Department of Employment, Research & Planning
For the Health of It: Reducing Work-Related Traffic Injuries and Fatalities
by: Sara Saulcy, Economist
"Not only do traffic crash fatalities and injuries result in personal losses, they also impose significant economic costs."
Transportation incidents, especially highway incidents (hereafter referred to as traffic crashes), represent a major hazard to workers. Nationally, transportation incidents accounted for 43 percent of all work-related fatalities (1,372 deaths). Traffic crashes were the cause of 25 percent of the total U.S. work-related fatalities in 2002 and represented the largest number of work-related fatalities of any
In Wyoming, more than half (53.1%) of all work-related fatalities were due to transportation incidents; 17 of the 32 work-related fatalities in Wyoming in 2002 were transportation related (see Table). Traffic crashes accounted for 12 of the 17 transportation incidents. Taken separately, traffic crashes accounted for 37.5 percent of all work-related fatalities in Wyoming.
Over the period 1998 to 2002, work-related traffic crashes claimed an average of 13.6 worker lives per year in Wyoming (see Figure). Most traffic fatalities during the period were recorded in 2001 (17), while the fewest were in 2000 (11). However, there may be a certain amount of bias because of the way fatalities are tallied. Work-related fatalities are based on place of fatal injury rather than the residence of the deceased.2
An Overview of Traffic Crash Statistics
Traffic crashes are a major public health problem for the general public, especially people who travel for work. Each year, three million injuries and 41,000 deaths occur as a result of traffic crashes.3
Rural areas are especially prone to fatal traffic crashes. Nationally urban area traffic fatalities declined from 18,807 in 1990 to 15,494 in 2001, but traffic fatalities in rural areas remained about the same. There were approximately 25,000 rural fatalities per year from 1990 to 2001.4 According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Safe Communities Service Center, more than 50 percent of fatal traffic crashes were in rural areas. The Center also points out that “although rural areas accounted for a little over one-third of total vehicle miles of travel each year, the fatality rate in those areas per 100 million vehicle miles traveled is more than double the rate in urban areas.”5 Other traffic fatality facts include:
· In rural areas in 2001, there were 22,735 total fatal crashes involving 34,165 vehicles and 59,359 individuals, resulting in 25,737 fatalities.
· As measured by the disabling deformation (whether or not the vehicle is operable after a crash), damage to vehicles in rural fatal crashes is more severe than the damage to vehicles in urban fatal crashes. Nearly 80 percent of vehicles in rural fatal crashes are disabled, compared to 65 percent of vehicles in urban fatal crashes.
· Fatalities as a result of ejections from vehicles are more common in rural than urban areas. Of all fatal vehicle crashes in rural areas, 27 percent of the fatalities were caused by ejection. In urban areas fatal injuries due to ejection from vehicles involved in traffic crashes consist of only 15 percent of all fatal traffic injuries.
· Driver fatalities (as opposed to passengers) are the most common crash fatalities in both urban and rural areas. Drivers account for 54 percent of all urban crash fatalities. Drivers account for 66 percent of all crash fatalities in rural areas.6
· On two-lane rural highways, higher speed head-on collisions are more common than on urban freeways or rural interstate highways.7
There are a number of hypotheses, but no definite conclusions as to why traffic fatalities occur more often in rural areas. Among the possible reasons are rural road characteristics (e.g., more curves, narrower shoulders), travel speeds in those areas, patterns of seat belt use, the types of vehicles commonly used for travel, and the availability and quality of emergency
Costs of Traffic Crashes
Not only do traffic crash fatalities and injuries result in personal losses, they also impose significant economic costs. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that the total annual economic cost in 1994 (the most recent year the study was conducted) of traffic crashes was $150 billion, of which $17 billion were medical care and emergency services expenses. Another $107 billion in costs were due to lost productivity and property losses.9 It is estimated that the economic costs of traffic crashes in 2002 translated to 2.3 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product or $820 for every person.10
Employers bear much of the economic costs of their workers' traffic crashes. The NHTSA estimates that total costs to employers attributable to traffic crashes (both on-the-job and off-the-job) were more than $43 billion in 1994. Of those costs, $18 billion were for health fringe benefits and $25 billion were spent on non-fringe costs (e.g., motor vehicle property damage, crash-related legal expenses).11 In 1994 on-the-job highway crashes cost employers $22,000 per crash, $97,000 per million vehicle miles of travel, and $110,000 per injury.12
In Wyoming, the NHTSA estimated that traffic crashes in 1994 resulted in $35 million in costs for health fringe benefits and $72 million in non-fringe costs for total costs of $107 million to Wyoming employers. These costs equate to an estimated $450 per Wyoming employee annually.
Reducing the Costs of Traffic Injuries and Fatalities
Recognizing that traffic injuries and fatalities are a major expense, both in human and economic losses, what can employers do to curb the costs of crashes, as well as their frequency? According to the NHTSA,
Safety belt use is the single most effective strategy a person can employ to prevent deaths and injuries and reduce the costs associated with motor vehicle crashes…. Although safety belt use has risen dramatically and has saved more than 100,000 lives in the past 20 years…, more than 7,000 persons are killed and over 100,000 injured every year due to the failure to wear their safety belts.13
By establishing driver policies, standards, and training programs, employers can help to reduce the frequency of traffic crashes, and reduce the severity of injuries that result from them. The NHTSA states, “Employers are a powerful influence over the workforce. They set standards for employee conduct, including those affecting safety.”14 The text box (see page 5) lists selected employer resources on the Internet aimed at improving traffic safety.
Transportation incidents, especially traffic crashes, represent a significant health hazard to workers and the general public alike. Of all fatal work events, transportation incidents result in the most work-related fatalities. This unfortunate statistic is true both nationally and in Wyoming. The rural nature of Wyoming makes the state especially prone to fatal traffic crashes. In addition to the human losses incurred, traffic crash fatalities impose substantial economic costs. Prevention is the key to reducing both human and economic losses. The number one preventative measure is consistent use of seat belts. Additional resources are available to employers to help improve traffic safety. Although work-related traffic fatalities are unlikely to be eliminated entirely, the frequency and severity with which they occur can be reduced by employers and individuals proactively addressing traffic safety issues.
Employer Traffic Safety Resources
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (<http://www.nhtsa
.dot.gov>) has numerous resources. Its sole mission is to prevent traffic crashes and reduce traffic-related injuries and fatalities. Specific traffic safety sites include:
Employers' Safety Programs http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/outreach/employer/
Traffic Safety Materials Catalog http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/outreach/media/catalog/index.cfm
The Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS) program is an employer-led, public-private partnership dedicated to improving the safety and health of employees, their families, and the communities where they live and work. Information about their programs and services is available at http://www.trafficsafety.org
The NHTSA Safe Communities Service Center in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Transportation, has a number of traffic-related safety resources.
1Other subcategories within transportation incidents include non-highway incidents, struck by vehicle, aircraft incidents, and other transportation incidents. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries 2002 Data: Information on Deadly Work
Hazards, September 2003.
2For example, a worker from California killed while driving a semi truck across Wyoming would be counted in Wyoming's work-related fatality statistics, even though the workers' place of residence was California. Craig Radden Henderson, “How Far to the ER? Interpreting Work Injury Fatality Rates,” Wyoming Labor Force Trends, August 2003, pp. 1-9.
3U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Occupant Protection Division, Winter 2002, http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/airbags/Winter02ocdivision_files (September 30, 2003).
4U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Traffic Safety Facts 2001, Rural/Urban Comparison, n.d., http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/NCSA/TSF2001/2001rural.pdf (September 30, 2003).
5U.S. Department of Transportation, Safe Communities Service Center, Rural Safe Communities Make a Difference, n.d., (September 30, 2003).
6U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Traffic Safety Facts 2001, Rural/Urban Comparison, n.d., http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/NCSA/TSF2001/2001rural.pdf (September 30, 2003).
7U.S. Department of Transportation, Safe Communities Service Center, Rural Safe Communities Make a Difference, n.d., (September 30, 2003).
8Doug Campos-Outcalt, M.D., et al., “Motor Vehicle Crash Fatalities Among American Indians and Non-Indians in Arizona, 1979 Through 1988,” American Journal of Public Health, February 1997, p. 282.
9U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Occupant Protection Division, Winter 2002, http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/airbags/Winter02ocdivision_files (September 30, 2003).
10U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Initiatives to Address Safety Belt Use, July 2003, http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/SafetyBelt/OPIPT_FinalRpt_07-17-03.html (September 30, 2003).
11Health fringe benefits include contributions to Workers’ Compensation programs, health insurance, sick leave, Social Security disability insurance, life insurance, private disability insurance, as well as insurance administration and overhead. Non-fringe costs are those not related to direct pay to workers, either as wages or as benefits. These costs include vehicle damage and replacement that is not reimbursed, crash-related legal expenses, liability insurance, and motor vehicle property damage. It also includes employer-paid taxes to help fund police, fire, and ambulance services. Also included is lost productivity of employees as a result of injuries, and recruitment and training costs as a result of an employee death or the long-term disability of an injured worker. U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, What Do Traffic Crashes Cost? n.d., http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/outreach/employer/WhatCost/employers.html (October 2, 2003).
12U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Employers’ Health Fringe Benefit Spending, n.d., http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/outreach/employer/WhatCost/spending.html (September 30, 2003).
13U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Initiatives to Address Safety Belt Use, July 2003, http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/SafetyBelt/OPIPT_FinalRpt_07-17-03.html (September 30, 2003).
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