Fewer traffic fatalities in the U.S., a new study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) says, but it’s not because they’re becoming better drivers.
In the June, 2009 issue of Injury Prevention, an article by UMTRI’s Michael Sivak poses the theory that a greater-than-expected decrease in traffic fatalities is at least partly because of an equally great reduction in leisure and rural driving.
According to Sivak, “Rural driving is more risky than urban driving primarily because of high speeds, but there is evidence that it has recently decreased more substantially than urban driving.” Sivak, who is a research professor and head of the Human Factors Division of UMTRI continued, “Analogously, leisure driving is more risky than commuter driving because of higher speeds, greater involvement of alcohol and more nighttime driving, but we are more likely to reduce leisure driving, if needed, than commuter driving.”
Sivak used monthly data from the Energy Information Administration, Federal Highway Administration, and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration in order to analyze the proportion of driving on rural roads, the average price of unleaded gas, and the average distance driven and come up with a proportion of leisure driving. His study focused on the two-year period from January, 2007 to December, 2008.
After compiling his data, Sivak found that all the above-named factors (price of gas, amount of rural driving, and distance being driven) accounted for 81 percent of the discrepancy between projected and actual road fatalities.
He elaborated, “The general economic downturn has led to a greater reduction in rural driving than urban driving because people in rural areas tend to have less income to start with than those in urban areas. On the other hand, the price of gasoline in particular has influenced leisure driving more than commuter driving.”