Thousands of Americans Die when Employment Rises

Recessions are not that bad after all – at least form the point of view of safety of people, claims a study recently conducted and forthcoming in the United States.

Every time there is an increase of 1 percent in unemployment in the U.S., around 5,000 fewer people die every year in auto accidents. This, according to the researchers, is because downturns keep dangerous drivers off the road and hence reduces fatal traffic accidents.
“We have documented an instance of a natural economic force that impels riskier drivers to drive less while not discouraging safer drivers,” say Clifford Winston, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution, and Vikram Maheshri, an economist at the University of Houston, in a forthcoming study in the Journal of Risk and Uncertainty.

There is a natural reduction in fatal road accidents as people generally tend to drive less during periods of economic contractions, shows previous research. This new research by Winston and Maheshri further innovates the previous researches showing that the biggest decline during enhanced unemployment rates is reduction in driving by the worst drivers.

Drivers who nevertheless had accidents during the course of the study were the ones who tended to take to the road less often as unemployment rose. People who live by themselves or with only one other person, who tend to have higher accident rates than family heads, people who are over the age of 60 and drivers with old cars were also part of eh list of drivers who drove less during downturns.

However, no strong reasons about why these particular groups of drivers drove less, were not available in the research. It was more likely that people who earned less had more chances to lose their jobs and hence did not need to commute to work, is one theory that perhaps explains the reasons for being less on the road. It is more likely that these groups would potentially have older cars and to live alone. Ho0wever, according to Winston,  since such trips account for only about 20 percent of driving, commuting can’t be the whole story, though.

Direct data on whether the people in the survey were employed or what their incomes were also not available with the researchers. Insurer State Farm in Ohio was the sources of the information about the drivers who are customers of the firm. In return for a cut in their rates, the customers had agreed to have their travels electronically recorded. The period of the research was timed at a time when the recession was technically over but joblessness remained high –from August 2009 through September 2013.

When the jobless rate was 1 percentage point higher in Ohio, the study found that auto fatalities there were 14 percent lower. Researchers projected that to the national auto fatality toll of around 33,000 a year to get the national figure of roughly 5,000 saved lives.

“In all fairness, this is by no means definitive. This is clearly a first cut,” Winston said in an interview.

How the U.S. could get dangerous drivers off the road without having to suffer through a recession is the question that the research now throws up. The authors say that driverless cars would help.

(Adapted from Bloomberg)

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