Low gas prices correlate to increase in road deaths; worse in Missouri

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COLUMBIA – A spike in traffic deaths is correlated to low gas prices nationwide and especially in Missouri, according to the National Safety Council and the Missouri Department of Transportation.

“If gas prices are high, I have less money to spend than when they’re lower,” Driver Tyler Ridenhower said. “If they’re lower, I can go a lot more places.”

Ridenhower isn’t the only driver on the roads more often when prices are lower.

The National Safety Council said in its vehicle fatality estimate report: “With continued lower gasoline prices and an improving economy resulting in an estimated 3.5% increase in motor-vehicle mileage, the number of motor-vehicle deaths in 2015 totaled 38,300, up 8% from 2014.”

The report indicates traffic deaths in Missouri, which has historically low gas prices, are nearly double the national average of 8 percent. The MoDOT highway safety director said those numbers match his agency's data.

“For traffic crashes in 2014, we had 766 individuals that lost their lives,” Bill Whitfield said. "When we looked at that in 2015, that number had risen 14 percent to 870.”

A report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said more than 90 percent of crashes are caused by human error.

"At the end of the day, it's the motorist's responsibility to operate and navigate their vehicle as safely as possible," Whitfield said. "But with that said, gas prices are as low as we've seen since 2009 and we do know that the vehicle miles traveled is up as well."

Whitfield said the trend is continuing in 2016. He said traffic fatality numbers for 2016 are up six road deaths from this time last year.