In 2015, the United States saw a 7 percent increase in roadway deaths. This was an alarming shift, as it broke away from a 35-year downward trend in automobile accidents across the country.
What was the cause of this increase in motor vehicle fatalities? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) attributes the spike to human-related causes, such as drunk driving and cell phone use. But one study claims that climate change is ultimately to blame.
Retired Yale University epidemiologist Leon Robertson recently published his study in the journal Injury Prevention. His analysis finds that global warming may be causing an increase in drivers on the road, which is naturally causing a rise in fatal automobile accidents.
Higher temperatures mean more roadway travel
Robertson found that vehicles are driven an average of 60 more miles for every degree increase in temperature. While this may not seem like much, it adds up when you account for every vehicle driven in the country.
Between 2014 and 2015, the average temperature increased by an unusually high 1.5 degrees. This would have attributed to almost 13.6 billion miles of added travel, assuming no population growth. Robertson theorizes that this is to blame for the spike in roadway deaths in 2015.
So what about distracted driving? Robertson notes that we have been increasing our cell phone usage since well before 2015, so that should have attributed to a spike earlier.
More driving could lead to more carbon emissions
The danger of this conclusion is that it results in a vicious cycle: Global warming leads to higher temperatures, which result in more cars on the road, which results in more global warming. Unless we take action, we could be seeing the start of an exponential rise in car accident fatalities.
Unfortunately for the average driver, there is not much you can individually do to protect yourself, other than practice safe driving. With more drivers on the road, you have to be even more aware of your surroundings to ensure you are kept safe.