Rising gas prices might make us safer

Tim Harlow at the Star Tribune Drive column reports on our research. Rising gas prices might make us safer

Death, prices correlated

Researcher Guangqing Chi of the Department of Sociology and Rural Studies at South Dakota State University looked at the correlation between gas prices and traffic safety. In a study examining crash data in Minnesota from 1998 to 2007, Chi found that a 20-cent drop in gas prices resulted in 15 more fatalities a year. Conversely, he found that a 20-cent increase would bring a decrease of 15 deaths annually.

The study also found that as gas prices rise, the crash rate per million miles traveled dropped in urban and rural areas. It found higher gasoline prices also have significant effects in reducing property damage and injury crashes.

In another study using data from Alabama and Mississippi, Chi found higher gas prices had the biggest effect on teens. With their lower incomes, teens are discouraged from driving by high gas prices and that reduces their crash rate. That makes the roads safer for other drivers, he said.

When fuel prices skyrocketed to more than $4 a gallon in 2008, many drivers drove less frequently and perhaps less aggressively, which reduced their chances of having a crash, the study said.

The bottom line is that when gas prices go up, “we suspect that people drive more carefully,” Chi said.

Read the paper here: Chi, Guangchi, Mohammed Quddus, Arthur Huang and David Levinson (2013) Gasoline Price Effects on Traffic Safety in Urban and Rural Areas: Evidence from Minnesota, 1998–2007. Safety Science 59: pp. 154-162