WASHINGTON - Today's high gas prices could reduce auto deaths by nearly a third as driving decreases, with the effect particularly dramatic among price-sensitive teenage drivers, the authors of a new study said.
Professors Michael Morrisey of the University of Alabama-Birmingham and David Grabowski of Harvard Medical School found that for every 10 percent increase in gas prices there was a 2.3 percent decline in auto deaths. For drivers ages 15 to 17, the decline was 6 percent, and for ages 18 to 21, it was 3.2 percent.
The study looked at fatalities from 1985 to 2006, when gas prices reached about $2.50 a gallon. With gas now averaging over $4 a gallon, Morrisey said he expects to see a drop of about 1,000 deaths a month.
With annual auto deaths typically ranging from about 38,000 to 40,000 a year, a drop of 12,000 deaths would cut the total by nearly a third, Morrisey said.
"I think there is some silver lining here in higher gas taxes in that we will see a public health gain," Grabowski said. But he cautioned that their estimate of a decline of 1,000 deaths a month could be offset somewhat by the shift under way to smaller, lighter, more fuel-efficient cars and the increase in motorcycle and scooter driving.
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