Whether from actions by the government or by natural market trends, a large portion of the nation is finally seeing a turnaround in the economy. Unemployment has be trending downwards, and more people have found a fulfilling job that pays the bills for themselves and their family. But this has had an unintended consequence that is actually costing the the local and national government big bucks: more car accidents.
According to the National Safety Council, the first half of 2015 (the most recent data year) saw a national increase of 14 percent in fatal traffic accidents. Some experts say this was caused by a variety of factors. First of all, gas prices have been plummeting over the past year, allowing more people to travel. In addition, there was more severe weather last year than we’ve had in some time. Finally, and most importantly, a recovering economy means more drivers going to work every day, naturally leading to more accidents.
Effects on the Local Scale
While national statistics are still being gathered and therefore unavailable, there are some states who have put out some convincing numbers. For instance, North Carolina’s unemployment rate has been consistently falling since reaching nearly 12 percent in 2010. Last year, unemployment rates were at just under 6 percent. In combination with the falling gas prices we began seeing in the beginning of 2015, more and more drivers were on the road.
This led to an increase in the number of fatal traffic accidents. While no official statistics have been released for 2015 as of yet for the state, it was reported that fatal accidents were up by 19 percent in the first half of the year. If that trend continued the rest of the year (which is likely, with more traveling during the holiday season at the end of the year), that would result in about 1,400 traffic fatalities in North Carolina. That is the highest number of fatalities since 2008, as you can see in this graph:
According to Allstate Chief Executive Tom Wilson, it’s simple math: “More miles driven, more cars on the road, more accidents.”
Creating the Perfect Storm
When other factors are considered, it seemed rather obvious that fatal accidents would increase across the nation. For one, the population of the United States has continually crept up since 2010, naturally leading to more drivers on the road. In addition, gas prices were the lowest they were since 2010. This led to drivers collectively traveling 1.54 trillion miles in the first half of the year — a 3.5 percent increase from 2014 and a historic record.
Seeing these trends, insurance companies prepared themselves for increased claims. But that wasn’t always enough, as Geico recorded a much lower profit in 2015 Q2. Insurance companies may have dodged many potential claims, however, when the cause of the accidents was revealed.
Symptoms of an Epidemic
While increased cars may naturally increase the number of accidents, there is an underlying factor causing the majority of these crashes. According to Warren Buffett, as more and more drivers use their cellphones on the road, the rate of accidents will continue rising. Distracted driving is one of deadliest problems on the American roads today, and can be just as dangerous as driving drunk.
But cellphones aren’t the only problem. Eating, picking something up off the floor and even driving drowsy can all be considered distractions. In all, at least eight people are killed and more than 1,100 hundred are injured every day in accidents involving distracted driving. The statistics make sense when you consider the fact that over a quarter of all car accidents involve cellphone use in one way or another.
So What Can Be Done?
For many Americans, driving may seem like the only way to get to work every day. While that may be true for some, there are many alternatives. Of course, living close to work could mean walking or biking there. For farther distances, consider public transit. While it may take longer to get to where you’re going, it all but eliminates your risk of being in a dangerous accident. Or, you could carpool to work with family or friends. However you do it, try to avoid driving by yourself if you can. The fewer cars that are on the road, the less likely an accident will happen.
If you do have to drive, do so safely. Leave yourself some extra time in the morning to get to work so you don’t have to speed. Keep your phone out of sight, and don’t fiddle with the radio. Remember all those lessons of defensive driving you learned in driver’s ed? With a record number of cars on the road, now would be an ideal time to remember and practice them. The safer you drive, the less likely it is you’ll be in an accident, at least one that’s your fault.