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Are High Gas Prices Making the Country’s Roads Safer?

Road

Rebecca Dewal discusses whether rise in gas prices has a notable impact on road safety.

The persistently high prices you’ve been paying at the pump lately may have a novel silver lining: they seem to correlate with lower rates of traffic accidents and fatalities. At least, that’s the takeaway from a new study by Guangqing Chi, a Mississippi State University sociology professor. Guangqing used a relatively simple methodology, comparing accident and fatality rates as gas prices rose from 2004 to 2008. Beyond the simple “higher gas prices make roads safer” headline, the study has some interesting implications for drivers of all ages and backgrounds.

Immediate Impact

Guangqing’s study carefully separated the “immediate” effects of higher gas prices on driving habits from “intermediate” or longer-term effects. For the purposes of the study, he defined the former as accident-rate trends attributable to gas-price movements that occurred in the previous month, and the latter as anything that took place within the following year. Thanks to an exhaustive demographic analysis of accident patterns that took such factors as race, age, and gender into account, Guangqing determined that certain demographic groups reacted much more quickly to gas price shocks. Young drivers, whose finances tend to be more precarious, were the first to change their habits in response to higher prices, effectively driving less, which has decreased the number of accidents on the road.

Intermediate Impact

If it’s not breaking news that your cash-strapped kids would cut back on their driving at the first sign of a rise in gas prices, it should be equally unsurprising that their more cautious parents would adopt a wait-and-see approach to what could end up being a momentary price spike. Guangqing confirms that the driving habits of older drivers were ultimately affected by higher gas prices, but the effect was far less pronounced in the short term. Older men were especially likely to practice safer driving habits.

While it’s not entirely evident why older drivers haven’t changed their habits as quickly as younger folks, it is possible that kids are more flexible when it comes to when and how often they drive. After all, they are more likely to use their vehicles for non-essential social purposes and are more than willing to carpool when they do actually need to get somewhere, like school or soccer practice.

The Alcohol Connection

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, drunk driving deaths fell by nearly half between 1980 and 2000, due primarily to awareness campaigns. Guangqing’s study suggests that much of the fall since then may be attributable to higher gas prices.

It makes sense that high gas prices would change the financial calculus for folks who habitually drink and drive. For one, when it costs nearly as much to drive to the bar as it does to share a taxi home, driving your own car there makes less sense. It’s also possible that habitual drunk drivers are simply going out less frequently now that more of their disposable income is flowing into their gas tanks.

The fact that higher gas prices seem to reduce accident and traffic death rates on American roads is great. It’s nothing short of miraculous that costly gas has been able to make a dent in the country’s drunk driving epidemic as well. Only time will tell if drivers are willing to ignore gas prices if they continue to remain elevated, but so far the trend line looks encouraging.

About the Author

Rebecca Dewall is a freelance blogger, who sometimes writes for www.carinsurance.org.uk, where you can find cheap car insurance quotes, despite the high price of gas.

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