Climate change is being blamed for an increase in traffic fatalities in America. According to one researcher from Yale University, higher temperatures across the U.S. led to a 7 percent surge in deaths from car accidents in 2015.
Dr. Leon Robertson, an injury epidemiology and prevention expert, believes warmer temperatures encourage people to take more road trips, increasing the likelihood of getting into a traffic accident. By examining data related to average annual miles driven and temperature, he calculated a person drives an additional 60 miles for every one-degree increase in temperature.
Statistics provided by Yale show the average temperatures in the U.S. increased about 1.5 degrees between 2014 and 2015. Dr. Robertson estimates 14 billion extra miles were driven because of the warmer weather that he says is related to climate change. The number of traffic deaths increased that same year after declining in years prior.
“As temperatures continue to increase from heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, road deaths will likely increase more than expected unless there are major mitigating countermeasures,” said Robertson, per a report from MedPage Today.
Most safety officials are convinced the increase in road fatalities can be attributed to distracted driving, like using a cell phone while behind the wheel. However, Robertson disagrees with that notion. He says cell phones and other distractions do increase risk, but not enough to explain 2015’s huge spike in deaths.
The study also found the number of deaths increased for motorcyclists, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Warmer temperatures tend to bring out more people walking and biking, which also increases the risk of dying from traffic-related accidents.
Dr. Robertson admits that the study has limitations. It was observational, so no definitive cause and effect conclusions were made. Other factors could also be at work such as household income. Families with above average income had a lower death rate, suggesting drivers owned a newer vehicle with improved safety features.
The study findings, published in Injury Prevention, note accident deaths can be reduced by putting in place more safety measures. Decreasing the maximum speed limit on city highways, as well as installing speed bumps in suburban neighborhoods, could make a significant impact on the number of accidents.
Traffic-related deaths are also on the upswing in 2016. The most recent government statistics show fatalities are up 8 percent in the first nine months of last year.
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