The Great Recession, Gas Prices, Regulation and Motor Vehicle Fatalities Involving Commercial Vehicles

Monday, June 13, 2016: 3:20 PM
B26 (Stiteler Hall)

Author(s): Alva O Ferdinand; Michael A. Morrisey; Ammar Aftab

Discussant: Damien Sheehan-Connor


 In 2011 there were nearly 30,000 motor vehicle crashes on U.S. roadways that resulted in a fatality; 38 percent involved a light truck and over 8 percent involved a heavy truck.    The empirical literature suggests that as the economy improves and gasoline prices decline there will be a marked increase in motor vehicle fatalities and renewed emphasis by employers, states and the federal government in moderating these trends.  This study examines the effects of the great recession and the swings in gasoline prices on motor vehicle fatalities involving commercial drivers and light and heavy commercial vehicles over the 2000-2013 period.  It includes an analysis of state motor vehicle regulations as potential means of ameliorating these impacts.

 Data Sources:

 State by year by month motor vehicle fatality data are drawn from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System.  These are augmented with unemployment and per capita income data from the Dept of Commerce, gasoline prices from the Energy Information Agency and the Oil Price Information Service, and state laws and regulations obtained from various sources.

 Study Design:

 We estimate a series of conditional negative binomial regressions in which the number of fatalities in the state-year-month is a function of gas prices, macro conditions, and state laws.  We include state, year and month fixed effects with robust standard errors to control for time invariant state conditions, state invariant time conditions, and seasonality.

 Principal Findings:

 Preliminary results suggest that each one percent across the board annual decrease in the county unemployment rate is associated with a 9.2 percent increase in national fatalities.  However, fatalities involving a vehicle driven by a commercial driver were over one-third higher.   For both light and heavy trucks, the change in fatalities was disproportionately found among those in “other” vehicles.  A $1.00 across the board reduction in gasoline prices was associated with an 11.5 percent increase in national roadway fatalities with the results largely proportional across driver and vehicle types.


 Early evidence suggests that the great recession substantially reduced fatalities involving commercial vehicles with disproportional effects for vehicles driven by commercial drivers.  Reductions in gasoline prices also had substantial effects on roadway fatalities.  All of these effects are large and imply that the improving economy together with falling gasoline prices will result in a substantial increase in motor vehicle fatalities.