With More People Driving Because of Cheap Gas, More Vehicle Crashes and Traffic Fatalities Occur
In the first 6 months of 2015, traffic fatalities and car crashes sky-rocketed in the U.S. – while 2014 hit a fantastic low in traffic fatalities, deaths in car accidents rose 14% between January and June this year.
Some analysts, including South Dakota State University sociology professor Guangqing Chi, believe that low gas prices and a rise in traffic fatalities are linked.
Professor Chi specifically studies the link between gas prices and traffic accidents and deaths. He conducted a study in Minnesota that examined gas prices versus traffic fatalities between 1998 and 2007, and has extrapolated what this year’s low gas prices might mean for automobile accidents and deaths.
“A $2 drop in gasoline price can translate into about 9,000 road fatalities a year in the U.S,” Chi said on NPR’s Morning Edition Tuesday. A more conservative estimate was still 3,000 road deaths per year correlated to the drop in gas prices. He added that a 20-cent drop in gas prices in Minnesota alone was linked to an increase of 15 traffic accident-related deaths per year.
Chi did point out that his estimates could be off because, in general, Americans are still driving less now than they did in 2007. Young people in particular are driving less overall, and the under-25 age group tends to have more traffic accidents than other groups.
Almost 19,000 people in the U.S. have died because of road accidents in the first 6 months of 2015 alone. If the trend continues, the United States could see over 40,000 people die in car crashes this year alone, the first time since 2007 that there were more than 40,000 traffic fatalities in one year. In 2007, 44,000 people died because of car crashes.
“As a safety professional, it’s not just disappointing but heartbreaking to see the numbers trending in the wrong direction,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president of the National Safety Council, who also tracked traffic fatality data for several years.
Low gas prices can definitely be linked to an increase in people on the road. This January through May, motorists have increased their number of miles driven by 3.4%. All told, American drivers traveled 1.26 trillion miles in the first 5 months of 2015 alone, exceeding the previous record-breaking 2007, when Americans drove 1.23 trillion in the first five months.
Other potential causes of the increase in traffic fatalities include states increasing their speed limits, and more drivers using smart phones, GPS’s, and other mobile devices while driving. Although drunk driving accidents have decreased 50% in recent years, and DUI accident fatalities have decreased an impressive 30%, the number of distracted driving accidents is on the rise.
“For many years people have said, ‘If distraction is such a big issue, why don’t we see an increase in fatal crash numbers?’ Well, we’re seeing increasing fatal crashes numbers, but I think it’s complicated to tease out what that is due to,” Hersman said.
Professor Chi told the Huffington Post in an interview that it typically takes drivers a year to react to the decrease in gas prices, so it is unsurprising, according to his data, that traffic fatalities have surged this year.
“It takes some time for people to respond rationally,” Chi explained. “If gas goes up 40 cents today, people will still need to get to work tomorrow.”