Sunday, February 22, 2009

Silver Lining

Although most people find diseases scary the real horror is the carnage on the roads. Forgive me if I rant one last time. Over 40,000 dead in the US in an average year. Do you know the total WORLDWIDE death toll in commercial aircraft accidents? It was 692 in 2007 and 502 in 2008. Kind of puts in in perspective. An airplane accident that kills 100 people is major headline news for several days. But more than that number of people die on US roads EVERY DAY. Okay. I'll stop now.

But the point of this post is that when you have a large number (eg 40,000) even a smallish fraction of that number is still pretty big. Over the last year gasoline climbed over $4 a gallon, and then the economy tanked. One consequence of this is that people are driving less and the traffic death toll has fallen. Motor vehicle deaths in the United States totaled 41,059 last year, the lowest level in more than a decade. And the Federal Highway Administration said Americans drove 12.2 billion fewer miles in June than a year earlier, the biggest monthly decrease in a downward trend that began in November.If the trend continues highway deaths this year will drop below 37,000 for the first time since 1961

The number is being pulled down by a change in Americans' driving habits, which is fueled largely by record high gasoline prices, according to the Transportation Research Institute at the University of Michigan.

The institute's study — which covers 12 months ending in April — found that as gas prices rose, driving and fatalities declined. The surprise, said Professor Michael Sivak, author of the study, was the huge decline in fatalities in March and April as gasoline prices surged above $3.20 a gallon.

Experts who have studied motor vehicle fatality trends said one reason for the dramatic decline is that people are reducing their nonessential driving first, which is often leisure driving at night or on weekends. That also happens to be riskier than daylight commuting on congested highways at lower speeds.

Teenage and elderly drivers — who also have higher accident rates — are more likely to feel the pinch of higher gas prices, and thus may be cutting back more than other drivers. Federal data also shows that driving declines have been more dramatic on rural roads, which have higher accident rates than urban highways.

There is no mention of whether drivers with latent toxoplasmosis infections are driving more or less.....

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