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: Six climate change solutions we can all agree on

Related Stories

Six climate change solutions we can all agree on

September 22, 2017

In the U.S., few issues seem to be as divisive as climate change. Although the science is unequivocal, political polarization has taken climate change hostage. Fortunately, there are solutions that people on both sides of ...

Musk's remarks nudge hopes for affordable Tesla EV

March 3, 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 a little closer ...

Fatalities down sharply as 16-year-olds drive less

February 24, 2014

Getting behind a steering wheel has been the most hotly anticipated rite of passage for most American teenagers (and a cause of insomnia among parents) practically since the invention of the automobile. For decades, 16-year-olds ...

Recommended for you

Metacognition training boosts gen chem exam scores

October 20, 2017

It's a lesson in scholastic humility: You waltz into an exam, confident that you've got a good enough grip on the class material to swing an 80 percent or so, maybe a 90 if some of the questions go your way.

Scientists see order in complex patterns of river deltas

October 19, 2017

River deltas, with their intricate networks of waterways, coastal barrier islands, wetlands and estuaries, often appear to have been formed by random processes, but scientists at the University of California, Irvine and other ...

Six degrees of separation: Why it is a small world after all

October 19, 2017

It's a small world after all - and now science has explained why. A study conducted by the University of Leicester and KU Leuven, Belgium, examined how small worlds emerge spontaneously in all kinds of networks, including ...

Ancient DNA offers new view on saber-toothed cats' past

October 19, 2017

Researchers who've analyzed the complete mitochondrial genomes from ancient samples representing two species of saber-toothed cats have a new take on the animals' history over the last 50,000 years. The data suggest that ...

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.