When the price of gas plummeted in late 2014, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) officials expressed concerns that one of the consequences of lower fuel prices would be an increase in injury and death on America’s highways and streets. They cited a study by Professor Guangqing Chi, of South Dakota State University, which tracked fuel prices and traffic fatalities over the last quarter of a century, finding that when gas prices increased, traffic deaths went down and when prices declines, fatalities went up.
The numbers are in for 2015 and, while the NHTSA’s worst fears did not become reality, officials saw the largest increase in traffic deaths nationwide in more than 50 years. Professor Chi had predicted an additional 9,000 traffic deaths in the United States if gas prices stayed around $2 per gallon. According to statistics, the actual increase was about 8% or just a little over 5,000.
Professor Chi says the correlation is really simple mathematics. When gas prices go down, more people are inclined to take to the roadways, and are also more likely to travel further. Many individuals and families may choose to drive, rather than fly, to a vacation destination. Assuming that the fatal accident rate remains the same, if there are more drivers on the road for more hours, the number of deaths will rise. Chi says the impact has been felt most acutely by younger drivers, who have less discretionary income and may not need to drive for work or other obligations. Because their driving is mostly recreational, they tend to do more of it when gas prices are lower.
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