In case you hadn’t noticed, ever since the United States moved into a position of being a global energy leader and exporter of both crude oil and natural gas products, gas prices at the pump have gone down. And what’s more, they’ve stayed down for quite a while now. That’s been good news for consumers in terms of both getting back and forth to work and possibly even taking a vacation instead of a staycation. But as John Lydgate once said, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Leave it to liberal America to find a reason to complain about cheap gas, and Justin Worland at Time Magazine has set forth the case why you should be paying more.
Americans love the low gas prices that have made driving increasingly cheap in recent years, but cheap fuel has a nasty side effect: more driving that has helped lead to a spike in traffic deaths, according to transportation officials.
Traffic fatalities in the U.S. increased more than 7% between 2014 and 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said this week. That rise in annual deaths—to 35,092—is the biggest percentage annual increase since 1966.
When gas is cheaper, Americans tend to drive more—total vehicle miles traveled increased to 3.15 trillion miles in 2015 up from under 3 trillion in 2013 when gas prices were higher. An improving economy also leads more Americans to hit the roads for work, according to NHTSA. Other factors that contributed to the likelihood of a fatal traffic accident included drunk or distracted driving.
Of course, Justin works in some other complaints as well. Driving more leads to more emissions which leads to (you guessed it) global warming. And those exhaust fumes aren’t good for anyone’s health. But the big, data driven focus here is on the fact that more driving leads to more traffic fatalities and injuries.
As Dog-Bites-Man stories go, this one is fairly middle of the road if you’ll pardon the pun. It’s obvious that higher traffic levels result in more accidents. When the economy is doing well and there are more new buildings being erected or existing ones extensively renovated we have more accidents on construction sites. As construction increases we produce more construction materials and factory injuries increase as employment goes up. Shall we cease all of those activities as well?
Here’s a quick tip for those who are waving this particular flag. Since the 1970s, traffic fatalities in the United States have continued to fall, even as total population and the number of vehicles on the roadways have skyrocketed. Per capita traffic deaths are less than half what they were when Jimmy Carter was in office. And when compared to other western nations, we’re absolutely one of the safest.
There have been downsides to America’s surging energy production and I’ve discussed them here before. The oil and gas industry is, in some ways, a victim of its own success. We’ve lost jobs in former employment hot spots and the rig count dipped significantly. (It’s only just now stabilizing and beginning to rise again.) But that’s life in a capitalist society and the industry has had to adapt and overcome as always. But of all the challenges we face, low gas prices are not on the list. It’s a positive feedback loop which allows workers in a barely recovering economy to get to work more economically and spread around a bit more of their money to other industries.
In short, gas prices are low. Don’t worry. Be happy. And stop complaining.