Economist Nathan Tefft explains how the recession has reduced traffic deaths

Writing in The Portland Press Herald, Assistant Professor of Economics Nathan Tefft and his colleague Chad Cotti of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh present new research explaining why fatal crashes in the U.S. have plummeted in recent years.

Rather than vehicle safety or the cost of fuel, the major reason for the decrease — from around 38,000 per year early in the decade to about 32,400 in recent years — is the recession, they write. “To repeat a phrase famously used during Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, albeit with a different purpose: It’s the economy, stupid.” Building on prior research, the economists show that when unemployment is high, there are fewer fatal accidents, especially alcohol-related deaths.

A simple conclusion is that unemployment lowers driving deaths because out-of-work people don’t drive as much. However, unemployment seems also to change actual driving behavior, they say. “A rising unemployment rate leads to changes in behaviors associated with driving, such as consuming less alcohol when out,” they write. View story from The Portland Press Herald, Jan. 26, 2011, and a Bates Magazine story about Tefft’s research on the effect of soda taxes on obesity.

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