Roadways in the U.S. are carrying heavier, more powerful vehicles operated by motorists who are older, driving faster and more often distracted, according to CCC Intelligent Solutions’ annual Crash Course report.
Each of those factors has a bearing on the frequency and severity of personal auto claims. The report says that frequency was rebounding from pandemic lows in the fourth quarter of 2022. The percentage of vehicles that were non-drivable after crashes was higher than in 2019 and 2020, a sign of increased severity.
“When it comes to cars on the road, post-pandemic drivers are driving faster and more distracted than ever. The result is accidents with greater severity,” the report says.
CCC said claim counts increased 3.7 percent in 2022 from 2021, while overall non-comprehensive claim counts increased 3.6 percent. Compared to 2019, overall claim counts were still 7.6 percent below 2022 numbers, while overall non-comprehensive claims remained down 11.4 percent.
The Crash Course report draws from a wide range of sources to detect auto claims trends. The changing demographics of the United States population, a shift in commuting traffic patterns precipitated by the pandemic and the evolution of automotive technology are among the data points included in CCC’s analysis.
The nation as a whole is growing older — in part because both birth rates and immigration are lower than previous levels. The median age was 38.8 years in 2021, up from 35.4 in 2000 and 32.9 in 1990.
Drivers, of course, are older as well. Older drivers tend to have fewer accidents, the report says, but if they are injured, treatment tends to be more complicated because of a greater propensity for pre-existing conditions.
A shift to remote work prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic continues to alter traffic patterns from historic norms. Traffic congestion is returning to pre-pandemic levels. According to the 2022 INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard, traffic delays exceeded pre-pandemic levels in 116 out of 295 U.S. urban areas, or 39 percent.
Much of those traffic jams have shifted to the south. Miami is now the 5th-most congested city in the nation, up from 12th in 2018, according to INRIX. Houston moved to a ninth-place ranking from 13th in 2018, and Atlanta moved to 10th place from 11th.
The number of vehicle miles driven, suppressed during pandemic lockdowns, now exceeds pre-pandemic levels. Trucks, especially, are driving farther. Both freight trucks and commercial light trucks make up a larger share of the vehicles driven. Continued growth in e-commerce is expected to drive growth in the number of miles driven by commercial trucks, the report says.
Consumers are also tending to choose heavier vehicles. More than 80 percent of new vehicle sales were light trucks in 2022, up from just under 50 percent in 2013.
Trucks and sports-utility vehicles are also heavier. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average weight of passenger vehicles on the road increased from 3,200 pounds in 1981 to 4,300 pounds in 2021. The average weight of SUVs increased 7 percent from 1990 to 2021; the average truck weight increased 32 percent during that time.
The report says crashes in heavy vehicles lead to more severe claims, both for property damage and bodily injury. Modern vehicles are also more complicated than previous generations of automobiles, another factor that drives claim severity.
In the meantime, supply chain disruptions have made automotive parts more expensive, and a labor shortage spurred in part by the aging population makes trained technicians in short supply. Each of those factors tends to increase claim severity.
The toll on human lives may be the most significant outcome of changing driving preferences and habits. CCC says that traffic fatalities on urban roads and streets increased 34 percent between 2010 and 2019. During the first nine months of 2022, there were an estimated 31,785 motor vehicle fatalities in the United States, down slightly from a peak of 31,850 during the same period in 2021.