Here's some food for thought for our elected officials when it comes to the importance of highway safety and infrastructure:
Traffic crashes in Michigan cost society $9.1 billion in 2009 - more than the cost of all crimes, a new study finds.

As the Detroit News reports, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute said in a study that the comprehensive costs of traffic crashes cost the state $9.1 billion in 2009, compared with $4.7 billion for the cost of crimes. The report was funded by the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.

This is despite the fact that since the study was first conducted in 1988, the cost of crime has been rising much faster than traffic crashes. The Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning said the costs of traffic crashes fell 27% between 2004 and 2009. Traffic fatalities declined 25% in that same time period, while injuries decreased 29%.

On a national level, David Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, says the agency is in the process of producing updated societal costs. But in a speech earlier this year, he noted that in 2000, the estimated annual cost of traffic crashes was $230 billion, more than $820 per person then in the United States.

"One of the major concerns of the United States Department of Transportation is the burden that traffic crashes impose on the American people in terms of human and economic losses," he said. "In 2009, 33,808 people died on our roads and more than 2.2 million were injured. For 2010 we are estimating that the number killed will drop to 32,788, the smallest number of fatalities since 1949. The fatality rate, too, will be the lowest level ever recorded."

We're making progress, but traffic crashes still cost society a huge amount of money.

Good transportation infrastructure means more than smooth highways and avoiding traffic jams. There's a safety component there, as well. And the current highway funding authorization expires -- again, after more than one extension -- on Sept. 30. When Congress comes back from its vacation, it's not going to have very long to find a solution. I'd hate to see those numbers start heading back in the wrong direction.