CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Life in the fast lane might be risky, but a new study finds staying off the road all together makes America much safer. That’s because researchers have confirmed a link between a decrease in fatal car crashes and a general reduction in driving.
The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, involved researchers looking at car travel between 2004 and 2014. It was determined that during that a period, Americans cut their total commute by 600 hours annually, on average.
Cited reasons for the reduction of time behind the wheel during the selected period include the market crash, an increase in gas prices, and general lifestyle changes.
“Fatalities to motor vehicle occupants dropped significantly during the study period, particularly among millennials,” Dr. Noreen McDonald, an associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says in a release. “Safer cars and better driving training could explain this decline, but the decrease could also be explained by the large and significant drop in driving.”
McDonald wanted to delve in deeper, determining whether crashes also decreased, and if physical activity increased, as the average American commuted less. She was able to conclude that the decrease in driving time during the period did indeed result in fewer crashes, particularly for men.
While that may not seem counterintuitive, what may come as a surprise is the fact that a decrease in driving did not led to an overall increase in exercise, nor other forms of travel. In fact, the amount of time people spent exercising remained unchanged, says McDonald.
“Despite predictions to the contrary, a substantial decline in auto use has not been accompanied by an increase in time spent in active travel nor in reallocating travel time to exercise,” McDonald says in a release. “These results accord with analyses from the transport literature that show the drop in driving occurred because Americans were going fewer places, not because they were switching from cars to travel by bus, foot, or bicycle.”
It is worth noting that the rate of driving has increased since 2014, which has been accompanied by an influx of fatal crashes. It is believed that a more stable economy has been a pivotal factor in this trend.