APHA Report: The Hidden Health Costs of Transportation

The American Public Health Association has published a new report titled The Hidden Health Costs of Transportation. Findings include an estimate that the health impacts from our dependence on the automobile may cost as much as several hundred billion dollars per year. Traffic crashes account for an estimated $180 billion, obesity accounts for an estimated $142 billion, and air pollution from traffic accounts for an estimated $50-80 billion. From the report:

Our dependence on automobiles and roadways has profound negative impacts on human health: decreased opportunities for physical activity, and increased exposure to air pollution, and the number of traffic crashes. The health costs associated with these impacts, including costs associated with loss of work days and wages, pain and suffering, and premature death, may be as high as several hundred billion dollars.

View the report

5 Responses to “APHA Report: The Hidden Health Costs of Transportation”

  • RDW says:

    Wow. I wonder how that compares to the health care costs which arise from smoking.

  • peteathome says:

    Smoking is estimated at $196B a year according to the Am. Cancer Soc. (and I think those are somewhat exaggerated as they include ALL medical costs of smoking, even though some of the medical costs would be incurred anyway as people have to die of SOMETHING). But anyway, you can see this is much bigger than smoking.

    The problem is that smoking doesn’t really add much to society while driving does. Most Americans live in low-density areas. Without private automobile transportation, these areas would collapse. The economic damage would be incalculable. Eventually we would cluster into tight cities that could be serviced by mass transit, but that would take generations.

    However, many of us already live in fairly dense cities. In these areas moving away from private automobile transportation could make life much more pleasant, with better health, less time in traffic jams, more quiet, etc.

  • EdLark says:

    @ peteathome

    Good point about the way our communities are organized making non-biking transportation options impractical for many commuters/drivers. But I’m not sure I would go with you on the implication that driving “add[s] to society” because of this organization. We have built up a transportation infrastructure in the United States that is based on the false and artificial view of fossil fuel as being cheap and plentiful, without any considerations as to the incidental costs that are not captured in the price-per-gallon when you fill up at the pump. This is not the result of any nefarious conspiracy, but simply the natural outcome of 1) artificially cheap gasoline and 2) proportionally large amounts of land area per person. We had room to spread out, and cheap gasoline allowed us to do it.

    I would not go so far as to call for the abolishment of the car, but I would be happy with a transportation infrastructure that views automobile travel as only one of many possible options and a gasoline pricing structure that fully takes into account the real and incidental costs of fossil fuel use. Such a system would naturally tend to concentrate the majority of the population in denser, more urban centers, connected by transportation corridors that included alternatives such as rail, bike paths, etc, in addition to traditional highways and freeways. (More like the European/Japanese model.)

    The car culture of the United States has actually been great in providing a shared sense of place, but it is not sustainable long-term. Those countries that already have a more versatile system in place are going to fair better in the long run. But, there is no way that the system can be changed overnight. Even if everyone who could practically ditch their car in favor of alternative transport did, it would still leave the majority trekking in by the freeway and the alternative transport systems are nowhere near ready to handle the kind of capacity it will take to make a real shift.

    The change in transportation models will have to happen eventually, but I’m afraid it will never happen as long as gasoline remains at its artificially cheap price level. Which means instead of moving into it slowly and (relatively) painlessly now, we will end up being forced into it quickly and at increased disruption and expense further down the line.

  • Tony Dyson says:

    Consider also that however much a vehicle costs new, it depreciates to valueless in 10/15 years, depending on climate. Then comes the cost of getting rid of all the plastic in anything built in the couple of decades.

    It has also led to such ridiculous urban & suburban sprawl that incalculable man-years are wasted annually just going from place to place.

    All things considered, the automobile is probably the most wasteful & destructive device ever invented.

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