A new study by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) claims that more than half of U.S. highway fatalities are related to deficient roadway conditions – and that poor roads are a substantially more lethal factor than drunk driving, speeding or non-use of safety belts.

The group said its research concluded that roadway deficiencies contribute to more than 22,000 fatalities and cost the U.S. more than $217 billion annually, with poor roads leading to 10 roadway-related crashes every minute (5.3 million a year) and contributing to 38% of non-fatal crash injuries.

“Safer drivers and safer cars remain vitally important, but safer roadways are critical to saving lives, preventing injuries and reducing costs,” pointed out Ted Miller, a safety economist and principal author of PIRE’s study, entitled On a Crash Course: The Dangers and Health Costs of Deficient Roadways.

"If we put as much focus on improving road safety conditions as we do in urging people not to drink and drive, we'd save thousands of lives and billions of dollars every year," he said.

Miller said the study found the $217 billion cost of deficient roadway conditions overshadows the costs of other safety factors, including: $130 billion for drunk driving, $97 billion for speeding and $60 billion for failing to wear a safety belt. Indeed, the $217 billion figure is more than three-and-one-half times the amount of money government at all levels invests annually in roadway capital improvements-- some $59 billion per year, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

The report concludes that roadway-related crashes impose $20 billion in medical costs; $46 billion in productivity costs; $52 billion in property damage and other resource costs; and $99 billion in quality of life costs which include the pain, suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life by those injured or killed in crashes and their families. The report also found that crashes linked to road conditions cost American businesses an estimated $22 billion at a time when many firms are struggling in a down economy. And, according to the report, crashes linked to road conditions cost taxpayers over $12 billion a year.

Miller added that PIRE’s study identifies ways transportation officials can improve road conditions to save lives and reduce injuries. For example, he said immediate solutions for problem spots include: replacing non-forgiving poles with breakaway poles, using brighter and more durable pavement markings, adding rumble strips to shoulders, mounting more guardrails or safety barriers, and installing better signs with easier-to-read graphics.

The report also suggested more significant road improvements should be made, including adding or widening shoulders, improving roadway alignment, replacing or widening narrow bridges, reducing pavement edges and abrupt drop- offs, and clearing more space adjacent to roadways.

“Although behavioral factors are involved in most crashes, avoiding those crashes through driver improvement requires reaching millions of individuals and getting them to sustain best safety practices,” Miller pointed out. “It is far more practical to make the roadway environment more forgiving and protective.”