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The unpleasant connection between gas prices and highway deaths

The falling numbers of traffic fatalities in the last decade has been one of the successes of the generation of incremental safety improvements that have been made to motor vehicles. Cars have come a long way from the 1960s and the Corvair being said to be "unsafe at any speed."

The improvements, including safety belts, airbags, crumple zones, radial tires and ABS brakes, have help make the current generation of cars the safest ever built. New features, like vehicle stability control, lane maintenance and crash avoidance systems will further help motorists drive more safely and will likely further reduce traffic fatalities.

Of course, part of the decline in traffic deaths correlates to the Great Recession that caused the number of miles driven to shrink substantially. There has been some concern that as the economy improves that traffic deaths would begin to increase.

But with the sudden crash in oil prices in the last few months of 2014, the concern has become more real. In Oregon, fatalities increased 13 percent last year and nationwide a similar increase is likely.

While driving a great many miles increases your exposure to more cars and therefore to more car accidents, really cheap gas also encourages another type of behavior that can be dangerous to your health and your life.

When gas is expensive, drivers tend to be more conservative, both in overall highway speeds and in avoiding "jack rabbit starts." With inexpensive gas, more people take on a "lead foot," driving faster and more recklessly.

The old warning still holds true, "speed kills." So slow down, continue to drive cautiously and stick around long enough to enjoy the savings in your gas purchases.

time.com, "How Cheap Gas Can Be Deadly," Brad Tuttle, January 8, 2015

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