Road crash costs - How do we define human costs of road crashes?

Human costs of road crashes are costs in the form of suffering, pain, sorrow and loss of quality of life and the joy of life for casualties and the ones closest to them. The intangible damage related to road deaths can be expressed in terms of money in a number of steps. The Netherlands and most other European countries do this on the basis of the amount that people are willing to pay for a decrease in the fatality risk in traffic (willingness to pay, WTP) [7]. This is usually determined with a questionnaire study ('stated preferences'). This can be used to derive the so-called ‘value of a statistical life’ (VOSL). The VOSL is the basis for the calculation of the human costs of road deaths. The immaterial damage of non-fatal injury is in its turn derived from this.

In 2001, the VOSL in the Netherlands was estimated at € 2.2 million plus or minus € 300,000 [9] [10]. The share of ‘immaterial damages for fatal injury’ comes down to almost € 1.8 billion plus or minus € 300,000. The other part of the VOSL concerns consumption loss. Taking into account inflation rate, the VOSL in 2018 was € 2.8 million, of which an estimated € 2.2 million was for immaterial damage. This is probably an underestimate, because the VOSL will also have risen due to the general increase in economic prosperity in this period (separate from inflation). In the Netherlands, the VOSL is in a similar range as that of other prosperous countries that use a WTP method, with the exception of the United States in which the VOSL is significantly higher [8].

The VOSL and human costs do not refer to the valuation for a specific individual, but to the valuation for a decrease in the risk of a fatal crash. After all, most people do not wish to die at any price. The 'willingness to pay' is based on people making a trade-off between risk and money. Every day people take decisions in which they make such a trade-off, consciously or unconsciously. Think of the choice of food, choosing driving speed, the choice of whether or not to have a smoke detector, or the decision whether or not to work out.

Much less is known about the human costs of non-fatal injury than about the human costs of fatal injury; studies have only been carried out in Great Britain [11], Sweden [12] and Belgium [13]. On the basis of the British study, the immaterial damage per serious road injury in the Netherlands has been estimated at 12% of the immaterial damage of a road death [14]. For slight injuries, the immaterial damage is estimated at 1% of the VOSL, based on the studies in the three countries [1]. These values correspond to the standard numbers that are often used at the European level (13%, respectively 1% of the VOSL) [15] [16].


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24 Mar 2020



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