DES MOINES, Iowa - As gas prices continue to go down, consumers at the pump are singing praises. But a 2008 study conducted by the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute found as gas prices skyrocketed, road fatalities plummeted - meaning as gas prices go down, the risk of a car accident could go up.
The study found that people not only drive less, but drive slower, when gas prices are high. As consumers try to save money at the pump, they consolidate car trips, and stick to a steady, lower speed on the road to conserve fuel. High-risk drivers, like teenagers, have less disposable income, meaning when prices at the pump are high, they aren't driving as much.
In Iowa, the Department of Transportation launched the "Zero Fatalities" initiative in the summer of 2014 to reduce the number of road fatalities. A "Monday Message" campaign had electronic boards on the state's highways displaying the year's traffic deaths so far, as well as some sort of safety reminder. 2013 was one of the lowest years in state history for road fatalities, at 317 deaths. By contrast, 2014 saw 321 deaths on Iowa's roads. Despite the slight increase since the Zero Fatalities initiative's launch, DOT spokeswoman, Andrea Henry, says people are getting the message.
"We get a lot of interaction with folks on social media, saying that they enjoy the messages, or they've taken them to heart," she said. "Some of them, they really thank us for them, and ask us to play them again, because they think it's necessary."
Henry adds that if risks are to go up on the road as a result of lower gas prices, she hopes the Zero Fatalities initiative and the Monday messages will give people the little nudging reminder they need to stay safe, and potentially save a life.
"It's important for families to talk to their kids about safe driving on a regular basis, too," she said. "They learn their driving habits from their parents, and since they're often high-risk drivers, it's important they hear the message often."