Are falling gas prices causing an increase in Oregon car accidents?

Research suggests that, as gasoline prices continue falling, drivers in Oregon may face a rising risk of deadly car accidents.

For most of the past decade, the reported number of annual traffic fatalities has fallen in Oregon, according to The Oregonian. Troublingly, though, the state's rate of deadly motor vehicle accidents rose by almost 13 percent from 2013 to 2014. Research suggests that this increase could be due in part to falling gasoline prices. Sadly, if this is the case, the risk of fatal car accidents may only increase for motorists in Portland and other areas during the coming months.

An uptick in deadly accidents

From 2013 to 2014, the number of annual traffic fatalities that occurred in Oregon increased from 313 to 352. Troublingly, this change affected virtually all road users, including:

  • Pedestrians - in 2014, 56 pedestrians lost their lives in motor vehicle accidents.
  • Motorcyclists - these road users suffered a more than 32 percent increase in traffic deaths in 2014.
  • Other motorists - overall, motorists were involved in a greater number of accidents that were serious enough to cause multiple fatalities.

This rise in deadly accidents may be due to various factors, and the Oregon Department of Transportation hasn't officially identified an underlying cause. However, one potential explanation is the increasing affordability of gasoline. Falling gasoline prices may encourage more people to drive, leading to an associated increase in serious car accidents.

How gas prices affect accident risk

A recent study from South Dakota State University suggests a troubling relationship between gasoline pricing and car accidents. Based on an analysis of data from three states, the study found that moderate decreases in gasoline prices are associated with increases in roadway deaths. The researcher who conducted the study estimates that a $2 decrease in gallon gasoline prices could lead to 9,000 more traffic fatalities per year.

Here in Oregon, local data indicates that motorists have started driving more and experiencing a greater number of accidents as gasoline prices have dropped. In early 2014, gas prices in the state fell to the lowest level recorded since 2009. During the same time, the number of miles traveled per person increased by 2 percent, and traffic deaths reached the highest level seen since 2009.

Unfortunately, the state's fatal accident rate may only increase in coming months. According to The Lincoln Journal Star, gasoline prices are anticipated to keep falling in September as refineries start using a different gasoline blend. In December, the national average gas price may drop below $2 per gallon. If the study and existing state data are accurate, serious accidents may start happening even more frequently as these changes occur.

Recourse for fatal accidents

Sadly, there is little that Oregon motorists can do to reduce their risk of involvement in these increasingly common fatal accidents. However, recourse may be available to people who have lost loved ones in catastrophic motor vehicle accidents. Anyone who has suffered such a loss should consider speaking to an auto accident attorney about the available legal remedies.