Publication Detail

The Annualized Social Cost of Motor-Vehicle Use in the US: Summary of Theory, Data, Methods, and Results


Research Report

Hydrogen Pathways Program

Suggested Citation:
Delucchi, Mark A. (2004) The Annualized Social Cost of Motor-Vehicle Use in the US: Summary of Theory, Data, Methods, and Results. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RR-96-03(01)_rev1

Suggested Citation: M. A. Delucchi, “The Annualized Social Cost of Motor-Vehicle Use in the U. S., Based on 1990-1991 Data: Summary of Theory, Data, Methods, and Results,” in Full Costs and Benefits of Transportation, ed. by D. L. Greene, D. Jones, and M. A. Delucchi, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Germany, pp. 27-68 (1997).

Every year, Americans drivers spend hundreds of billions of dollars on highway transportation. They pay for vehicles, maintenance, repair, fuel, lubricants, tires, parts, insurance, parking, tolls, registration, fees, and other items. These expenditures buy Americans considerable personal mobility and economic productivity.

But the use of motor vehicles costs society more than the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on explicitly priced motor-vehicle goods and services in the private sector. Some of the motor-vehicle goods and services provided in the private sector are not priced explicitly , but rather are bundled in the prices of nontransportation goods and services. For example, "free" parking at a shopping mall is unpriced, but it is not costless; the cost is included -- bundled -- in the price of goods and services sold at the mall.

In addition to these priced or bundled private-sector costs, there are public-sector costs: the tens of billions of dollars spent every year to build and maintain roads, and to provide a wide range of services that support the use of motor vehicles. These services include police protection, the judicial and legal system, the prison system, fire protection, environmental regulation, energy research and regulation, military protection of oil supplies, and more.

And finally, beyond these monetary public and private-sector cost are the nonmonetary costs of motor-vehicle use -- those costs that are not valued in dollars in normal market transactions. There are a wide variety of nonmonetary costs, including the health effects of air pollution, pain and suffering due to accidents, and travel time. Some of these nonmonetary costs, such as air pollution, are externalities; others, such as travel time in uncongested conditions, are what I will call personal nonmonetary costs.

The total national social cost of motor-vehicle use is the sum of all of the costs mentioned previously: explicitly priced private-sector costs, bundled private-sector costs, public-sector costs, external costs, and personal nonmonetary costs. These costs are listed and classified more rigorously in Table 1-1.

Over the past three years, my colleagues and I at the University of California have been doing a detailed analysis of some of the costs of motor-vehicle use in the U.S. In this paper, I explain the purpose of estimating the total social-cost of motor-vehicle use, briefly review recent research, explain the conceptual framework and cost classification, and present and discuss our preliminary cost estimates.

Revision of report originally published in June 1996. *Minor revisions to summary tables.
  • See: (insert reference to pubID 568; RP-97-12)

Report #1 in the series: The Annualized Social Cost of Motor-Vehicle Use in the United States, Based on 1990-1991 Data