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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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The Hidden Cost of Lower Gas Prices

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The price of gasoline has dropped significantly in the past few months – to the lowest it has been since 2009. Even though gas prices have started their annual springtime migration higher, motorists are still saving money at the pump. That’s a good thing, right? It’s always great to save when filling up your tank, right?

As we are all rejoicing these last few months, believe it or not, there is a downside to lower gas prices. Not only does cheaper gas mean an increased number of motorists on our roadways, it also means more people are going back to larger vehicles, driving more miles, going on more road trips, and forgoing public transportation and carpooling. Lower gas prices are particularly attractive to younger, inexperienced drivers who have less discretionary income. All this leads to more traffic congestion and ultimately more auto accidents.

Guangqing Chi, a sociologist and researcher at South Dakota State University, analyzed the relationship between gas prices and road fatalities in Minnesota, Mississippi and Alabama from roughly 1998 to 2012. According to the study, when gas is cheaper, people tend to drive more often and more aggressively. When gas prices rise, drivers tend to drive less and at slower, fuel-efficient speeds between 40 mph and 60 mph, Chi said. While the initial intent for changing driving habits is to save gas, these habits also lead to safer driving. The study concluded that a 20-cent drop in the price of gas results in 15 more auto accident deaths each year. Given that figure, a “$2 drop in gas prices could mean 9,000 more car accident fatalities every year,” said Chi.

On the bright side, today’s lower gas prices may not be as grim as when Chi conducted the study. Driving habits have changed and constant improvements in car design and safety features have helped keep the fatality rate down despite an overall increase in auto accidents. However, it is important to always be attentive behind the wheel. Chi says to really get drivers to slow down and avoid distractions, don’t scare them about losing their life. Tell them how they can save money at the pump. Slowing down, accelerating slowly, and maintaining a steady speed actually saves gas – and, ultimately saving lives.

Make safe driving a priority every time you hit the road — no matter the price of gas!

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.