The Life-Saving Qualities of Expensive Gas

Here's a refreshing bit of good news to chew on next time you fill up your car: high gas prices are saving as many as 1,000 American lives each month.

After being stung at the pump, it seems, we've made up our minds to drive less and to drive more slowly. For instance, certain bloggers you may have heard of are driving their Volkswagen Gist - I mean Golf - only every other day, turning the car off at long lights, and generally avoiding gunning the massive 2.0 liter engine altogether.

And I'm not the only one taking it easy. The bottom line is more than 20 billion fewer miles driven so far this year. And as two medical researchers reported at a meeting last month, that means fewer cars to crash into each other, and less forceful impacts when they do.

The researchers found a 2.3 percent decline in fatalities for every 10 percent increase in gas prices. The amazing part is that it's not some statistical quirk emerging from the last month or two of records - it's a solid relationship that's apparent from 1985 through 2006 - the last year for which statistics have been compiled (back when gas was a paltry $2.50 a gallon).

With America's traffic toll hovering around 40,000 deaths per year, the researchers expect gas prices to do what seat belts, airbags, driver ed classes, and innumerable highway patrol speed traps haven't managed yet: save another 1,000 lives per month. Do I hear $5 a gallon, anyone?

(Image: National Museum of Natural History)

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