Reduced gas prices in recent years have had a direct link to a rise in car accidents. Cheaper fuel means more drivers are on roads, and some aren’t driving more carefully to increase mileage and reduce gas usage.
A study by South Dakota State University sociology professor Guangqing Chi found that a 20-cent drop in gasoline prices in Minnesota was followed by an extra 15 traffic fatalities per year. He also estimates that a $2 decrease in gas costs nationwide could lead to an additional 9,000 traffic deaths.
Besides encouraging more people to drive more miles, cheap gas prices also tend to make people less diligent about holding a steady speed or accelerating slowly to save gas and increase mileage. Such strategies don’t just save gas — they constitute safer driving. And with a drop in safe driving, fatalities rise.
Cheaper gas seems to fuel impatience, which in turn can cause car crashes. Drivers are more likely to speed faster and to hit the brakes hard instead of coasting to a stop.
However, not all drops in gas prices have been accompanied by more traffic fatalities, and not all rises in gas prices have been met by fewer car wreck deaths.
For instance, without gas prices dropping significantly, car wreck fatalities rose in the first half of 2015. The reason? Businessman Warren Buffett blames it on the rise in texting and other driving distractions.
Also, the states of New York, Missouri, Vermont and Tennessee had fewer traffic deaths in 2014 despite plunging gasoline prices which meant more people were on the roads.
Clearly, other factors than gas prices impact traffic death numbers. Today’s cars are built to be safer, which could contribute to declines in deaths despite drops in gas prices.
Also, safer driving habits acquired when gas prices were high may be sustained by some drivers over time, despite drops in fuel costs.
Jim Adler & Associates encourages all drivers to be safe at all times — after all, crashes can happen at any time — regardless of the price of gas.