In his Transportationist blog, David Levinson asks which kills more: Deaths by vehicles from crashes (both cars and trucks) or deaths by vehicles from air pollution.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration counted approximately 43,500 fatalities caused by car crashes in 2005 in the United States. MIT research, led by Fabio Caiazzo, found that same year had roughly 52,800 deaths attributable to particle matter from road transportation (which accounts for a quarter of emission-related deaths)—a 19.7 percent increase from crashes nationwide. An additional 5,250 deaths are caused by road-related ozone concentrations.
Death, however, is only one form of measurement regarding the health impacts of both auto emissions and crashes. Levinson tries to adjust for age through the Global Burden of Disease database, which includes a measurement accounting for “Years of Life Lost." In 2010, about 1.87 million years were lost to road injuries, whereas 1.65 million years were lost to breathing particle matter. (While this may not seem like a mind-blowing difference, the gap is actually wider, as the latter includes all forms of air pollution. If a quarter of pollution-related deaths come from cars, then a more accurate number would be about 410,000 years.) Auto emissions, overall, cut lives 12 years short; crashes, which mainly affect younger people, cut about 35 years.
In short, while Americans appear more likely to die from auto emissions, car crashes pose a bigger danger when considering wasted life potential.
Image by Honou, licensed under Creative Commons.