August 25, 2008


High gas prices drive down traffic fatalities (JOAN LOWY, 8/25/08, Associated Press)

This year, gasoline climbed over $4 a gallon, and the traffic death toll - according to one study - appears headed to the lowest levels since Kennedy moved into the White House.

The number is being pulled down by a change in Americans' driving habits, which is fueled largely by record high gasoline prices, according to the Transportation Research Institute at the University of Michigan.

The institute's study - which covers 12 months ending in April - found that as gas prices rose, driving and fatalities declined. The surprise, said Professor Michael Sivak, author of the study, was the huge decline in fatalities in March and April as gasoline prices surged above $3.20 a gallon.

Over the previous 10 months, monthly fatalities declined an average of 4.2 percent compared to the previous year. Then, Sivak's data shows, fatalities dropped 22.1 percent in March and 17.9 percent in April of this year - numbers that did not show up in a recent federal report that tracked a drop in traffic deaths through the end of 2007.

The declines found by Sivak suggest that motorists reached what he calls a "tipping point" and have begun significantly changing their behavior - altering not only how much they drive, but where, when and how they drive. Sivak said early data for May and June show similar trends.

Dear 44: New ideas (REECE RUSHING, 8/25/08, Politico)

[T]he U.S. population is growing and there are far more drivers on the road. Traffic congestion in American cities costs an estimated $78 billion annually in lost productivity and wasted fuel. Moreover, the number of commercial trucks is increasing at an even faster rate than passenger vehicles. These trucks place great strain on the nation’s roads and bridges, requiring additional dollars for repairs and maintenance.

Finally, there is the urgent need to reduce the burning of fossil fuels and the resulting release of carbon dioxide emissions, which are causing potentially disastrous global climate change. The transportation sector is the second largest source of CO2 emissions in the United States, with two-thirds of these emissions coming from automobiles and light trucks.

All of this suggests a need for more rail transportation — including long-distance train service (for both passengers and freight), subway systems and light rail. More extensive rail transportation can take cars and trucks off the road, particularly in urban areas, where most road travel occurs and where congestion is most severe. This would reduce spending on road maintenance and expansion and reduce demand for gas, thereby driving down the price at the pump, and significantly cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 25, 2008 7:16 AM
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