The holiday season has delivered a special gift to motorists in New Jersey and throughout the United States: declining gasoline prices. But while the news of lower prices at the pump has been cause for celebration in the Garden State and elsewhere, less welcome is the growing evidence that as the price of gasoline goes down, the number of traffic accidents goes up.
According to AAA Mid-Atlantic, the average price of a gallon of regular gas in New Jersey on November 15 was $2.76, which was down 2 cents from the previous week. That figure is also significantly lower than the $3.11 per gallon motorists were paying one year ago. The drop represents the ninth straight week that gas prices have decreased in the Garden State and are part of a longer-term downward trend in prices over the past few years.
A glut in world oil supplies has been amplified by a major surge in petroleum production in the United States. Additional Americans oilfields have been brought into service, and hydraulic fracturing technology has been introduced more widely. Both have contributed substantially to the fall in gasoline prices.
Unfortunately, recent research findings point to a strong correlation between the price of gasoline and the number of traffic accidents. A study from Mississippi State’s Social Science Research Center found that as gasoline prices escalated toward and above the $4-per-gallon mark between April 2004 and December 2008, the period of higher prices was associated with a reduction in traffic accidents, including drunken-driving collisions. During periods of falling prices, the study found, the opposite trend was true.
There are several behavioral factors that may promote a fall in the number of traffic accidents during periods of relatively high gasoline prices, including the desire to reduce gasoline consumption by driving less frequently or as far. More people adopt driving habits that promote conservation, like driving more slowly and reducing sudden speeding or breaking. During sustained periods of higher prices, some families relocate closer to workplaces, thus reducing commute distances, or use public transportation instead of driving.