Gas Prices Changing Driver Behavior?
A new study from the University of Michigan suggests that the decline in traffic deaths nationwide might be more than simply a function of the fact that people are driving less.
Drivers also may be changing their behavior, says Michael Sivak, research professor and head of the Human Factors Division at the university's Transportation Research Institute.
His study finds that numerical declines in gasoline sales and miles driven may not fully account for the reduction in crash fatalities.
The decline in traffic deaths has outpaced the drop in gas sales and number of miles driven since at least last year, Sivak finds. And the change was especially noticeable in early spring.
Nationwide gas sales decreased about 3 percent in March and 1 percent in April and estimated miles driven fell about 4 percent and 2 percent in those months. But motor vehicle deaths declined 22 percent in March and 18 percent in April. (Those were the most recent stats available when he did the study.)
So why would the decline in deaths be outpacing the drop in driving? These are Sivak's suggestions:
-- The reduction in miles driven might have been disproportionately greater for more risky driving conditions. Rural drivers reduced their mileage more than urban drivers. Rural roads are less safe.
-- The amount of driving might have decreased disproportionately for lower-income people, hit hardest by the price of a gallon. Lower income people -- and this includes teens and the elderly) tend to have higher crash rates.
-- People may be driving more slowly to save gas. (This may be partly a function of the decline in driving on rural roads, where speeds tend to be higher.)
Hopeful trend: If the March-April trend line were to continue, Sivak writes, then for 2008, the annual crash fatalities would drop to under 40,000 for the first time since 1961. You can read his full report, with stats and references, as a nine-page pdf file here.
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