The unexpected costs of lower gas prices

There are very few of us who have not been excited when we pulled up to the pump in the last few weeks and were able to leave with a full tank of gas and money left in our pocket. Gas averaged $3.30/gallon a year ago, went up to $3.70/gallon as a nationwide average over the summer, and now is averaging $2.04 per gallon nationwide, and even lower than that here in Alabama.


So, what could be wrong with lower gas prices? According to one South Dakota sociologist, when gas prices are lower, roadway fatalities see a dramatic increase. Guangqin Chi, a sociologist at South Dakota State University, has studied the relationship between traffic fatalities and gas prices in 144 countries and has found that higher gas prices are associated with fewer fatalities and lower gas prices are associated with a larger number of traffic deaths.


Chi believes that a $2 drop in gasoline prices can result in 9,000 additional highway fatalities per year in the United States. This is because, quite simply, lower gas prices mean people drive more. The more people drive, the more likely they are to have accidents, and the more people have accidents, the more likely there is to be a fatality. In addition, higher gas prices encourage people to drive more efficiently.


But lower gas prices do not necessarily have to mean an increase in your chances of having an accident. When gas prices are higher, people tend to combine multiple errands in one trip. Instead of taking a trip to the grocery store, a separate trip to the drug store, and a separate trip to the dry cleaners, people tend to combine purposes into one trip. Just because gas is less than $2/gallon, still combine purposes. Reduce your driving and you reduce your chances of an accident.


Another way to reduce your chances of having an accident is to not drive aggressively. Avoid aggressive driving and aggressive starts. All vehicles lose fuel economy at speeds above 55 mph. Driving 65 instead of 75 mph reduces fuel cost 13%. Driving 55 would save 25%.


Another way to decrease your chances of being involved in a motor vehicle accident is to drive defensively. There are some obvious safe driving tips like not driving drunk but others include:

  • Avoid distractions (like texting and driving, talking on your telephone, and eating while driving);
  • Don’t drive drowsy. Get a good night’s sleep. If you get sleepy while you’re driving, stop driving. Take a break. Take a nap. Walk around. Get some coffee. Wake up before you continue driving.
  • Always wear your seat belt. Always. NHTSA statistics reveal that more than half of all accident fatalities were people who weren’t using seat belts. The numbers are much scarier for young drivers and passengers: A staggering 70 percent of fatal crash victims between the ages of 13 and 15 weren’t wearing seat belts.
  • Be extra careful in bad weather. Don’t follow too closely anytime but especially in bad weather. Use the three second rule – find a stationary object on the side of the road, see when the car in front of you passes and count seconds until you pass the same object. If it’s less than three seconds, increase the distance between you and the car in front of you.
  • Keep your vehicle safe. Make sure your tires are properly inflated. If you notice some “softness” in your brakes, get them repaired immediately by a professional.
  • Practice defensive driving and assume every other driver on the road is an idiot.


Enjoy the lower gas prices but remember that everyone else is enjoying the lower gas prices too so pay more attention to your driving and the driving of those around you.


Safe travels!



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