How do we define the 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 enjoyment of life for casualties and their loved ones. 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 risk of a fatal crash (willingness to pay, WTP) [8]. This is usually determined with a questionnaire study ('stated preferences'). This can be used to derive the so-called ‘Value of a Statistical Life’ (VSL) and the ‘Value of a Statistical Serious Injury’ (VSSI). The calculation of the human costs of road deaths and serious road injuries is based on the VSL and VSSI. The intangible damage of less severe injuries is derived from this.

In the recent international study ‘VALOR’, the latest scientific insights were applied in a WTP study, in which the VSL and VSSI were determined for the Netherlands and three other countries (Belgium, Germany and France). The Dutch VSL in 2020 was estimated to be € 6,3 million, with a  95% reliability interval of € 3.4 to € 9.0 million [10] [11]. The share of ‘intangible damages for fatal injury’ comes down to almost € 5.8 million [1]. The other part of the VSL concerns consumption loss. [i] The VSL in the Netherlands is similar to that in the other three countries that took part in the VALOR study, and is at the upper bound of the VSL bandwidth that was found in other countries [11].

The VSSI in the Netherlands was estimated to be € 1.0 million, with a 95% confidence interval of € 0.5 to € 1.4 million [10] [11]. The VSSI equals the human costs of serious injuries. The VSSI was determined for road injuries with an injury severity of MAIS3+, which is more serious than the injury severity of serious road injuries in the Dutch definition  (MAIS2+). The human costs of serious road injuries with an injury severity of MAIS2+ were estimated to be € 0.7 million and those of a slight injury (treated at an A&E hospital department) at approximately € 40,000 [1]. These values are derived from the VSSI by means of ‘Disability Adjusted Life Years’ (DALYs), a measure to quantify loss of quality of life.

The VSL found in the VALOR studies (€ 6.3 million) is more than twice as high as the VSL used in previous estimates of the road crash costs (€ 3.0 million, price level 2020) based on a 2001 study [9] [14] [15]. The new VSL shows that people are more appreciative of road safety than they were about twenty years ago. The increased valuation can be explained by the rise in prosperity, but its effect is probably limited [11]. Although the same method was used as in the previous VSL study, differences in method details may also affect the results. Other explanations for the higher VSL are issues for further research. The human costs of a serious road injury  (€ 0.7 million; injury severity of MAIS2+) are also more than twice as high as previous estimates that were based on foreign literature (€ 0.3 million, 2020 price level) [14]. As a percentage of the VSL the values are in the same order of magnitude (10% in 2020 versus 12% in previous estimates)  [1].

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 or serious injury. After all, most people do not wish to die or get injured 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.

[i] The VSL consists of an immaterial and a tangible component (consumption loss), while consumption loss is also part of the loss of production. To prevent double counting, consumption loss is deducted from the VSL, which results in an estimate of the human costs. For more details, see [12] en [13].

Part of fact sheet

Road crash costs

The social costs of road crashes in the Netherlands in 2020 are estimated at € 27 billion (between € 15 and € 36 billion). This is significantly Meer

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