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How important is safe driving?  According to the latest research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), our crashes from coast to coast cost American society $871 billion.  The total includes $277 billion in economic costs – nearly $900 for each person living in the USA – and $594 billion in societal harm from the loss of life and the pain and decreased quality of life due to injuries.

"No amount of money can replace the life of a loved one, or stem the suffering associated with motor vehicle crashes," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "While the economic and societal costs of crashes are staggering.  This report clearly demonstrates that investments in safety are worth every penny used to reduce the frequency and severity of these tragic events."

NHTSA's study, "The Economic and Society Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, 2010," focuses on some of the behavioral factors that contributed to that year's 32,999 highway fatalities, 3.9 million injuries and 24 million damaged vehicles. It found that just three driver behaviors, speeding, drunken driving and distracted driving, accounted for 56% of the economic loss to the nation and 62% of the societal harm.

Here's a breakdown:

•Speeding. Crashes involving vehicles exceeding the speed limit or going too fast for conditions accounted for 21% of the total economic loss and cost $59 billion. These crashes were responsible for $210 billion – or 24% -- of the overall societal harm.

•Drunken driving. Crashes caused by drivers under the influence of alcohol accounted for 18% of the total economic loss from automobile wrecks and cost the nation $49 billion. These crashes were responsible for $199 billion – or 23% -- of the overall societal harm.

•Distraction. Crashes involving a distracted driver accounted for 17% of the total economic loss and cost $46 billion. These crashes were responsible for $129 billion – or 15% -- of the overall societal harm.

"We want Americans to live long and productive lives, but vehicle crashes all too often make that impossible," said NHTSA's acting administrator, David Friedman. "This new report underscores the importance of our safety mission and why our efforts and those of our partners to tackle these important behavioral issues and make vehicles safer are essential to our quality of life and our economy."