Climate Change May Be the Cause of More Roadway Deaths

Researcher finds link between rising temperatures, traffic fatalities

car traffic

FRIDAY, Sept. 1, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- America's roads may become more dangerous as an unexpected consequence of climate change, according to a report published online Aug. 31 in Injury Prevention.

Leon Robertson, Ph.D., now retired from the Yale University School of Public Health in New Haven, Conn., looked at two sets of data to see if there was an association between temperature and rainfall on how many miles people in the 100 most densely populated U.S. counties drove in a year.

Between 2014 and 2015, the average annual temperature increased 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the areas studied, Robertson found. In addition, people drove about 60 extra miles per year for each degree increase in temperature. And they drove about 66 more miles for each additional inch of rainfall. The death rate was higher in warmer areas and in those with higher rainfall, Robertson said. It was also higher where the speed limit on highways was higher. The death rate was lower for people with higher incomes, possibly because these drivers had newer cars with more up-to-date safety features, he suggested.

Robertson calculated that, based on the association between miles driven and average temperature in urban areas, drivers drove 13.6 billion extra miles as the result of a 1.5-degree increase in temperature. More driving was not the only reason for increased deaths, Robertson said. Warmer weather also meant more pedestrians and bicyclists were out, increasing the chances for fatal accidents. "The people who were more likely to die were pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists, so it was obvious that people are on the road more when the temperatures get warmer," Robertson added.

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