Lower Gas Prices Lead To More Car Crashes, Study Says

It may seem like a strange correlation, but researchers at South Dakota State University have found an interesting relationship between cheaper gas prices and increased traffic accidents. In a new report from Claims Journal, the study’s lead researcher Guangqing Chi, an associate professor of sociology at SDSU, said the relationship definitely exists, though the time frame within which it occurs varies based on the driver’s age.

Chi, also the state demographer for South Dakota and director of the Rural Life and State Data Center, “has been leading a multi-institutional team of researchers who analyzed crash data from three states—Minnesota, Mississippi and Alabama—in relationship to gasoline prices,” CJ notes, adding that the study “was supported by the Mississippi Office of Public Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.”


More from Claims Journal:

“Researchers gathered monthly traffic crash statistics from the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety for 1998 to 2007, the Center for Advanced Public Safety at the University of Alabama for 1999 to 2009 and the Mississippi Department of Public Safety for 2004 to 2012. The analyses were done separately for each state.

“Of the Minnesota crashes analyzed, 0.6 percent resulted in fatalities, 31 percent injury and 68 percent property damage only, according to Chi. In 1998, the price of gas was 76 cents per gallon, while in 2007, it was $2.76 a gallon.

“Based on those statistics, a $2 per gallon price drop would result in an additional 150 crashes involving a death, 5,000 producing injuries and 35,000 causing property damage only in Minnesota. Researchers from the University of Minnesota, Mississippi State University and Loughborough University in England also worked with the Minnesota data.”

It typically takes around nine months after the gas price drops for a boost in traffic accidents to begin, Chi explained. “It takes time for people to adjust their driving.”

However, he added, “the reaction to decreased gas prices is quicker among 16- to 19-year-old drivers.”

“If gas drops 40 cents today, you will see the number of crashes for these drivers go up within a week,” he said.

As for the 25-34 age group, a drop in gas prices doesn’t affect them, probably because they are just entering the job market and creating families, thus using more caution. “It’s a matter of priorities in life,” Chi explained.

For drivers 35 and up who also have more financial resources, “the change is gradual” with a 1 percent increase in gas prices leading to a 0.17 percent decrease in crashes within a year.

Chi found in comparing rural and urban crash stats that decreased gasoline prices have a stronger effect on rural accidents.


So what’s an auto insurance customer to take from this?

One: The more time they spend out on the road, the greater the likelihood they will be involved in a crash.

Two: Most of the accidents they experience will probably focus on property damage alone, though with the increase in traffic accidents, fatalities and injuries go up as well.

Three: Cheap gas prices can be an unnecessary call to drive more. If they were doing fine before the price drop, why do they need to drive more just because they can?

Four: If they do alter their driving habits, they should err on the side of caution and do it slowly, modeling the behaviors of motorists over the age of 25 instead of giving in to “the urge.”


In Summary

While the findings are surprising, they make a lot of sense, and auto insurance leads & customers should remind themselves not to change driving habits too drastically when gas prices fall.

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