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Highway Deaths Fall as Gas Prices Rise

People slowing down, and fewer cars on the road, contribute to a lower highway death toll. The same thing happened back in the 1970s during the Arab oil embargo.

Researchers with the National Safety Council report a 9 percent drop in motor vehicle deaths overall through May compared with the first five months of 2007, including a drop of 18 percent in March and 14 percent in April.

The skidding economy has a bearing on this:

When the economy is in the tank and fuel prices are high, you typically see a decline in miles driven and traffic deaths," said John Ulczycki, the council's executive director for transportation safety.

States also cite other factors such as police stepping up their pursuit of speeders and drunken drivers, as well as better teen-licensing programs, safer vehicles and winter weather that kept many drivers at home. The Governors Highway Safety Association also says seat belt use is probably at record levels and will top 90 percent in several states when figures are released later this year.

But the last time road deaths fell this fast and this sharply was during the Arab oil embargo in 1973-1974, when fatalities tumbled 17 percent, from about 55,100 to 46,000; and as states raised the drinking age to 21 in 1982-83, when fatalities fell 11 percent, from roughly 49,300 to 44,000.

Chuck Hurley, a former official with the National Safety Council and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said half of the decline in road deaths during the 1970s was attributed to high gas prices. The remainder was linked to the lowering of freeway speed limits to 55 mph.

The economic impact of higher gasoline prices is significant, but its' nice that some good things are coming out of this as well.


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Comments (2)

Lee, I know you and I are motorbike fans, so you just have to wonder with more people tooling around on both motorcycles and scooters these days if there won't be more accidents and deaths related to these type of vehicles in the future, although the number of overall deaths of all motorists will remain lower with the gas price crisis.

I know that Vespa is reporting sales up 140% from one year ago, and business is very brisk at nearly every American motorcycle and scooter dealership. Many wholesalers are simply out of most stock and are backordered for weeks as well.

The good news might be that overall traffic deaths are down for now, but with more people choosing motorbikes for either fun or fuel savings, then you just know that there will be more accidents with vehicles of this type in the future because they take longer to stop than a four wheeled vehicle and are less stable with just two wheels than a four wheeler, especially in bad weather conditions. But they're so much fun that they're worth the risk. Heck, you only live once.

I did read a disturbing notion over at the Columbia Scooters Website here in Portland though. While a four stroke motorcycle or scooter puts out very little air pollution, a 150cc two stroke unit puts out as much hydrocarbon air pollution per one mile as a huge city bus with a 300hp diesel engine puts out in one hour of use. In 10,000 miles of use a 150cc two stroke cycle will put out over 1,500lbs. of hydrocarbon pollution into the air, many times what a whole fleet of SUVs would ever put out in air pollution. Two stroke engines are powerful workhorses and are great in chainsaws, motorcycles and scooters, but their pollution levels are absolutely alarming compared to any four stroke design and will always be far more noisey as well because of limitations in their design.

Lee Ward[TypeKey Profile Page]:

I live and work in a college town, and scooters are everywhere.

I ride a bike, and because there are hills I own a "hybrid" electric bike that uses a 12 volt battery - very green, and very cheap to operate. The battery is replaced once a year at a cost of $90, and it's literally pennies a day to charge the battery.

I still have a car, which I use to go for groceries and other occasional uses, and I'm currently only spending about $25 a month on gasoline. I'm also blessed to be living in an area with excellent public transportation. All told I spend less than $100 a month on transportation, and $30 if that is car insurance for a car I drive 2-3 times a week.

I wasn't aware that two-strokes were such polluters. Makes sense, but the comparison with the bus is instructive. I suspect two-stroke engines won't be around much longer.


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Publisher: Kevin Aylward

Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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