Major drop in traffic deaths: It's more than high gas prices

July 28, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Rising fuel prices, resulting in less driving, may very well be a reason for the decline in traffic deaths, as recent reports have suggested. But a new report by the University of Michigan shows that something more may be at play—a major shift in driving behavior.

According to Michael Sivak, research professor and head of the Human Factors Division at the U-M Transportation Research Institute, changes in gasoline sales and miles driven cannot fully explain the reduction in motor vehicle fatalities.

While the decline in traffic deaths has outpaced the drop in gas sales and number of miles driven since at least last year, the change has been especially noticeable since this spring.

Motor vehicle deaths plummeted 22 percent in March and 18 percent in April, while gas sales decreased about 3 percent and 1 percent and estimated miles driven fell roughly 4 percent and 2 percent for each of those months. The data are based on year-to-year percentage changes and are not available yet for May and June.

"Should the March and April trends continue, the 2008 annual fatalities would drop to under 40,000 for the first time since 1961," Sivak said.

There are several possible explanations, he says, for the fact that recent decreases in motor vehicle fatalities are substantially greater than decreases in gasoline sales or estimated miles driven.

First, the reduction in distance driven, albeit smaller than the drop in traffic deaths, might have been disproportionately greater for more risky driving conditions. For example, the reduction in miles driven on rural roads—the more risky roads—for March and April was greater than the reduction on urban roads (-4 percent vs. -2.6 percent).

Second, because of the increasing cost of gas, the amount of driving might have decreased disproportionately for people with less income. In turn, people with less income (for example, teenagers and the elderly) tend to have higher crash rates.

Provided by University of Michigan

Explore further: How cars could meet future emissions standards: Focus on cold starts

Related Stories

Cleaner air may be driving water quality in Chesapeake Bay

July 26, 2016

A new study suggests that improvements in air quality over the Potomac watershed, including the Washington, D.C., metro area, may be responsible for recent progress on water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. Scientists from ...

After fatality, autonomous car development may speed up

August 8, 2016

The world has witnessed enormous advances in autonomous passenger vehicle technologies over the last dozen years. The performance of microprocessors, memory chips and sensors needed for autonomous driving has greatly increased, ...

Mate choices of barn swallows tied to diverging appearances

August 15, 2016

If you are a male barn swallow in the United States or the Mediterranean with dark red breast feathers, you're apt to wow potential mates. But if you have long outer tail feathers in the United States, or short ones in the ...

Recommended for you

Paleontologists discover major T. rex fossil (Update)

August 18, 2016

Paleontologists with the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture and the University of Washington have discovered a Tyrannosaurus rex, including a very complete skull. The find, which paleontologists estimate to be about ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

hlahore
not rated yet Jul 30, 2008
They are probably conserving fuel by driving slower, which results in having fewer fatalities.
shem
1 / 5 (1) Feb 09, 2009
Change in fleet.

Fuel economy has also been declining during this time. Probably due to efficient, but less safe vehicles of the early-mid 90's being retired from the fleet.

Increased congestion from peoples' poor responses to high gas prices also means there is more, but less serious, accidents.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.