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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Drive Pro-Life II: Americans Drive Less, Die Less

Back in August, I featured a study by Dr. Michael Sivak of U.Michigan that found a correlation between high gas prices and a steep drop in traffic fatalities.

That trend apparently continued through the autumn gasoline price collapse, as economic woes took over to keep Americans driving less. The results (according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, reported in last night's print MDL, but making USA Today a couple weeks ago): traffic deaths down in 42 states last year, and down by double-digit percentages in 25 states (including South Dakota!) and DC.

In South Dakota, 121 people died on the road last year. That's 25 fewer than in 2007. How many more lives might we save if we kept gasoline at $4 a gallon (gas tax, Governor Rounds?)?

A lot of lives were saved just by being on the road less: over 13 months ending last November 30 (o.k., what statistician counts things in 13 month intervals?), Americans drove 112 billion fewer miles... and that's only a 3.4% decrease! But people were apparently driving more safely on the miles they did cover: deaths per 100 million miles also decreased 6.5%. Safer cars, more safety features, sure, but also less leadfooting: the GHSA survey cites "multiple states" reporting lower highway speeds.

So nationwide, we saved a few thousand lives by driving less... and less stupidly. See? High fuel prices and a recession aren't all bad. But I wonder: how many more lives might we lose from suicide, crime, less access to health care, or other trouble that might increase due to economic woes?

Figure that out when you get home. For now, just put down the phone, ease up on the pedal (unless you're bicycling!), and focus on the road.


  1. Many people slowed down to get better fuel economy when they did have to drive somewhere. Slower drivers are able to react better than pedal pushers, so it makes sense that less miles and lower speeds equals less accidents and fewer deaths. A lesson we can all live by.

  2. Also: Alcohol-related fatalities on SD roads dropped from 62 in 2007 to 43 in 2008, according to preliminary numbers.

    USA Today is good at getting stories like that.

  3. In Texas, 2 speed limits are posted on signs - one for daytime and one for night-time.. I think the night-time speed limit is typically 5 or 10 slower.

  4. So, if we don't pass or wear seat belts and still kill several more-- we'll still be under the average. Whahoo!


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