By on July 13, 2008

Less of this? (courtesy images.dradjust.com)iCasualties.org reports 4118 U.S. military deaths in Iraq from March '03 to July '08. In 2005 (the last year where full data is available), 43,443 American died in road accidents. The rate of deaths per 100 million miles driven has steadily decreased. But the increasing number of miles driven means that the total number of fatalities hasn't changed much over the past few decades. Get those drivers to drive less… ScienceDaily reports that Michael Morresey put together some tables on the topic. The public health professor at the University of Alabama reckons a 10 percent rise in the cost of gas trims traffic by 2.3 percent. His calculations suggest that $4/gallon gas equals 1k fewer monthly U.S. road fatalities. It's not clear if Morresey's assumptions factor in the effect of automobilists switching to a pair of wheels (with a much higher fatality rate per miles driven). It'll be a few years before we get the bottom line.

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16 Comments on “$4 Gas = Fewer Fatalities. Maybe....”


  • avatar
    golden2husky

    It seems that some of the biggest factors in vehicle deaths (excluding the tiniest of cars which we don’t have) are due to disparity in weight, different ride heights, and driver skills/age/gender. Item three is not going to change. $4.00 gas is certainly going to change 1 and 2. 15 years ago, the 4100 pound Town Car was the “big, safe” one. Today, that weight is easily eclipsed by a big SUVs. Having that big truck’s bumper override your car’s crash structure is the further icing on the death cake. So, with the push toward more efficient vehicles, plus safety advances and a decrease in miles driven, the death rate should go down, at least when the big guys are scrapped. But will it increase elsewhere, such as motorcycle or bicycle deaths? It is like that argument that limiting suicide by firearm can be reduced by limiting quick access to guns. That may be true but do they just jump in front of a train instead?

  • avatar
    sean362880

    With due respect to the public health professor, this smells of BS.

    I can just as easily assume that driver fatalities will go UP with higher gas prices, regardless of the number of number of miles traveled OR wheels / vehicle. Here’s how:

    – more people are running out of gas
    – when people run out of gas they have to walk
    – walking increases risk of being eaten by a Bear
    – …fatality rates go up.

    And there you have it. Remember, statistics have shown that the survivability of a bear attack is much lower than a car crash.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    It makes sense. If fuel costs increase, people drive less. If people drive less, then they are less likely to die in traffic accidents. So the number of traffic-related fatalities should decrease with higher fuel prices.

    The fatality rate should also decline, because a lot of the traffic removed from the roads during times like these are vacation travelers. Vacation travel means more high occupancy vehicles, having accidents in locations where it takes longer for medical help to arrive once an accident has occurred. Accidents in rural areas are more likely to cause fatalities because the delays in providing medical treatment lower the likelihood of survival in a crash.

    But will it increase elsewhere, such as motorcycle or bicycle deaths?

    I personally doubt it, for it is unlikely that the mileage driven on motorcycles is going to increase enough to substantially impact the total.

    A lot of these news stories about increased scooter and motorcycle usage are anecdotal, probably making the trend seem a lot larger than it is. I’m betting that it’s a tiny blip, and that a greater number of people are reacting to high fuel prices by increasing their use of mass transit and spending more time at home.

  • avatar
    eh_political

    Less driving, lower speeds, and eventually lighter average vehicle weights. I think I am noticing a bit more civility on the roads I travel in Ontario, but then I don’t live in the eternal gridlock that is Toronto.

    Anyone else experiencing a more mellow drive these days? Gas in Ontario is roughly $5.50 USD per gallon, but our consumers are not as tapped out as our American cousins. Also, we have factored in higher gas prices in our vehicle selection for many years (but still have a relatively large light truck presence on our roads).

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    A lot of these news stories about increased scooter and motorcycle usage are anecdotal, probably making the trend seem a lot larger than it is. I’m betting that it’s a tiny blip, and that a greater number of people are reacting to high fuel prices by increasing their use of mass transit and spending more time at home.

    I think that’s right. I read a lot of scooter blogs, because I was at one time considering a scooter. To hear the scooter fan boys tell it, everyone in American will be riding one this time next year.

    It’s not hard to have impressive percentage gains in scooter sales, as the total is very low to begin with. A doubling or trebling of scooters would still leave them as a statistically insignificant part of the transportation “system”.

    Even people who do buy scooters quickly figure out that in you live in MI, IN, IL, OH, PA, ……etc. you can’t ride half the year and even when you can, the first time a Suburban runs you off the road you reexamine the “savings”.

    I’ve started bicycle commuting, but I’m already doing less biking than I did 3 months ago. It’s not fun riding in the rain. And some days I don’t feel like “asserting my right to the road” when I’m on a 27 pound bike going against a 3700 lb car.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    I am in a big urban area, and I know exactly _1_ person who has switched to a scooter. I know a bunch others who now walk or bike. I see no mass migration to (motorized) 2 wheels. The people still on their 2 wheels are trying to convince 4 wheelers to switch (or so I’ve seen). Most people do switch to public transport, walking, or biking. We also have several “by the hour” car services like “igocars” or zipcar. I see the cars around everywhere, esp since gas & parking is included.

    Speaking of riding year round, has anyone here tried riding a 200-650cc dual sport in snow ? How difficult is it?

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    There is likely another factor not mentioned here. In the endless arguments about the 55 NMSL years ago, it was pointed out that historically, when there is a downturn in the economy, accident & death rates go down. The 55 was instituted at the begining an economic downturn, and some affixed all the credit for that on the magic “55″ number. Of course when drivers had to wait sometimes for hours in line for gas, and gas stations routinely ran out of suppies and often sold only X gallons per purchase, people tended to drive less then as well.
    I submit much the same is occurring today, pricely gas, less driving, and economic downturn are all having their part to play.
    As to our culture and society’s near pathological obsession with safety, and “saving lives” I say BS! Reality check; you don’t “save a life” you simply delay a death. Living a life making continual sacrifices and limitations for the sake of fear, is not a life worth living.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    “Anyone else experiencing a more mellow drive these days?”

    It sure seems that way to me. I don’t have real data, just personal impressions, but here in the Silicon Valley area is sure feels like there are far fewer speed demons on the road darting across lanes of traffic. Also, average speeds on the freeway now seem to be withing 5 mph or the posted limits while just a year ago it seemed that the speed limit was treated as an absolute minimum, with many vehicles doing tens of MPH over it. I put about 200 miles of local busy highway driving in this past Friday (multiple meetings in multiple places) and the difference in speeds, aggressiveness and traffic density compared to a year or so ago all caught my attention.

    But as Richard says, it will be a few years until we have enough data to be able to know for sure.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    My personal observation is that traffic on some roads has decreased in volume, but not necessarily in speed. I can’t quantify it either, so this is merely anecdotal.

    Last week, I took an informal poll among six of my co-workers. They observed that traffic seems to be down, but the ratio of SUVs to cars is about the same as it was at the beginning of this year.

    No mention was made of the “politeness factor,” but maybe I’ll poll them on that this week.

  • avatar
    chanman

    I think it was mentioned here that the largest decline in road deaths were for young drivers. One might surmise that the hormone-laden and inexperienced are the ones that are having the greatest difficulty coughing up extra money for gas and are driving less.

    Incidently, that makes hoonery and joyriding directly more expensive.

    @eh_political

    5.5ish? I think we’re about there in Vancouver now. There were a few days when it broke 1.50 a litre though.

  • avatar
    thetopdog

    Of course traffic fatalities will decrease if fewer people are on the road. If we outlawed cars our economy would go in the tank and our quality of life would suffer but we wouldn’t have any traffic fatalities at all!

  • avatar
    Maeloch

    I know how to make fatality rates drop to zero. Just have everybody stop driving.

    If people drive less, then the number of fatalities drops, but your risk of dying behind the wheel is simply related to how many miles you personally drive. That is why the deaths per million miles metric is so important because it measures actual risk rather than making people feel safer (with lower absolute fatality rates) when their actual risk doesn’t change.

    If you take two identical drivers, except one drives twice as many miles as the other, the one that drives twice as many miles has twice the likelihood of being involved in an accident.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    Folks will use just about anything to justify high gas prices these days.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    I just thought of a couple points.

    Less driving may NOT mean lower accidents, injuries, or fatalities.

    Remember, we are not talking about pure statistics in a vacum here. We are talking about human beings.

    Practice makes perfect. Skillful drivers may be able to avoid accidents entirely. Or reduce the severity of an accident.

    Take for example the driver who has the presence of mind and/or fast reaction to turn the wheel, thereby running off the road or maybe just hitting a roadsign instead of a pedestrian, biker, or another vehicle.

    Having the presence of mind to “choose” what to crash into, given an unavoidable crash.

    Or hitting another vehicle obliquely, rather than having a direct head-on crash.

    Human beings are great at gaining fast reactions, presence-of-mind-during-emergencies, and other types of competency, but only with PRACTICE.

    Take away that practice (daily driving), and competency will eventually fall. Or in the case of new drivers, competency will not be acheived in the first place.

    With lower competency levels, the chance for accidents may rise. And when an accident occurs, the chance that it may be more serious (ie, more injurious or more deadly) may also rise.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    ZoomZoom: I think you are describing what we engineers call second and third order effects. They may exist, but rarely dominate the outcome.

  • avatar
    RedStapler

    Another factor in this is that with $5/gal Deisel a lot more freight is riding going onto railroads.

    As freight slows some of the poor drivers are being shown the door.

    Many of the entry-level long haul carriers like Swift or Werner are being significantly more selective about who they hire. Two years ago they would hire someone with a couple of preventable accidents and speeding tickets. Today they likely would not.


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