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

Jul 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: Super Bowl athletes are scientists at work

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Californians on way to state's new energy goals

Jan 07, 2015

Clean-energy programs initiated by Gov. Jerry Brown and governors before him have California already well on its way to meeting his new goals for reducing the use of climate-changing fossil fuels, industry experts and state ...

Musk's remarks nudge hopes for affordable Tesla EV

Mar 03, 2014

(Phys.org) —Monday's headlines hummed with Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk's few remarks about what may be in the cards for its upcoming "budget" electric vehicle, the Model E. At the least, the remarks drive ...

Making progress on deforestation

Jun 24, 2014

In 2005, Brazil was losing more forest each year than any other country. The good news is that today, Brazil has reduced deforestation in the Amazon rainforest by 70 percent, according to a recent study. ...

Sailing official wants Rio water pollution tests

May 19, 2014

Sailing's governing body may conduct independent water-quality tests in Rio de Janeiro's polluted Guanabara Bay, the sailing venue for the 2016 Olympics and the site of Rio's first test event in 2½ months.

Recommended for you

Super Bowl athletes are scientists at work

Jan 30, 2015

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman gets called a lot of things. He calls himself the greatest cornerback in the NFL (and Seattle fans tend to agree). Sportswriters and some other players call him ...

Sundance doc examines real-life Close Encounter

Jan 29, 2015

Earth authorities are completely unprepared for the arrival of alien visitors and worried humans should ready themselves by watching a groundbreaking documentary, the film's director boasts.

Toward a scientific process freed from systemic bias

Jan 26, 2015

Research on how science works - the science of science - can benefit from studying the digital traces generated during the research process, such as peer-reviewed publications. This type of research is crucial for the future ...

User comments : 2

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.