Higher gas prices, lower driving, fatality rates

Analysis by Chris Graham

Gas prices are down 11 cents from where they were a month ago in Virginia. But at an average per-gallon price of $3.86, we’re still paying more than a dollar over what we paid last year. And we weren’t all that enthused last year about paying what we were paying then, if you remember.

Shouldn’t be a surprise, then, to learn that we’re driving a lot less than we used to. Numbers from a Federal Highway Administration report released yesterday are backing that up. Overall, Americans drove 9.6 billion fewer miles in May 2008 than we did in May 2007. And we’re now at 40.5 billion fewer miles traveled over the past seven months.

The May numbers represent a 3.7 percent decrease from May ’07.The numbers for year-to-date ’08 are down 2.4 percent. In Virginia, miles driven are down 3.6 percent in calendar-year 2008.

In addition to the positive impact on the environment that we should be realizing, we’re also seeing a nice downward trend in motor-vehicle deaths. The National Safety Council is reporting a 9 percent decrease in traffic-related fatalities to date in 2008. “In fact, researchers are forecasting that higher gasoline prices, which have triggered a decline in the demand for gas and in driving, could result in a third fewer auto deaths annually across the nation this year,” AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson Martha Meade said.

The decline in traffic deaths in Virginia for the first six months of ’08 is 18 percent – from 572 a year ago to 472 this year.

“Is there a nexus between higher gas prices and the fact that we are driving billions of fewer miles and the declining number of highway fatalities across the nation this year? Many highway and traffic safety experts hope so,” Meade said. “This is an important trend to watch. Traditionally, the summer vacation and travel period hits its zenith in late July and August, as more motorists and their families hit the roads. It is also the period when the highway death toll normally increases.”

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