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The Effect of Climate Change on Traffic Accidents

THE HOTTEST YEAR ON RECORD...AGAIN

This year, 2016, marks the third year in a row that the world is on track for setting a record for the hottest year since the 1880s, when global temperatures were first recorded. Dodge City, Kansas broke a record for 100 degrees on October 17, and Omaha, Nebraska broke a record with 85 degrees on the same day. In fact, the weather map for October 17, 2016, and much of the week beginning with that date looked like a forecast for July, not for mid-October. Given that these warmer temperatures have been a multi-year phenomenon (some would argue a multi-decade one), two economists posed the question of whether global warming affects traffic accident rates and fatalities.

DOES GLOBAL WARMING CAUSE TRAFFIC FATALITIES?

The answer is yes, but for some surprising reasons. The pair of economists studied traffic accidents in different weather patterns from 1990-2010 on U.S. roadways. They found that when the temperature was below freezing or when there was precipitation (rain or snow), accidents involving property damage or injuries increased. This finding was intuitive and corresponded with people's anecdotal findings and experiences.

However, when whether was warm, accidents involving fatalities increased. In fact, when the temperature was over 80 degrees Fahrenheit, fatal traffic accidents increased by 9%. This was an unusual finding, and the big question was: why?

What the authors of the study found is that climate change in the form of warmer temperatures causes more people to walk, bike or ride motorcycles rather than use motor vehicles. These alternate modes of transportation are less protective when involved in traffic accidents, and therefore fatality rates increase in traffic accidents as the use of these warm weather forms of transportation increase. So while the causation was indirect, in that it caused a change in behavior (walking or biking instead of driving), warmer temperatures nonetheless resulted in greater traffic fatalities.

A more direct causation can be found in the effect climate change has on transportation infrastructure. Extreme rainfall events like the once-in-a-millennium flooding in Louisiana earlier this year washed out roads and bridges. Even smaller but severe storms create mudslides and flood roads, wreaking havoc on traditional infrastructure and isolating more rural sections of communities. Projecting climate change into the future, experts worry that varying cycles of freezing and thawing will create more potholes and be more destructive to road surfaces, thereby resulting in dangerous road conditions.

WHAT CAN BE DONE

Slowing the pace of global warming is one way to lessen traffic fatalities caused by extreme weather events and those that occur due to people choosing warm weather modes of transportation. Another way to address the increase in traffic fatalities that occurs when people walk, bike or ride motorcycles is through urban planning: design roadways to accommodate these alternative and less protective methods of transportation. Separate lanes for bicycles and pedestrians, roundabouts to slow traffic in populated areas, and bridges over high-traffic roads, are some of the creative ways to allow a buffer between the more vulnerable populations on the roads and the huge, heavy motor vehicles and trucks which would cause severe injury or death if an accident between the two occurred. Some cities have already embraced these techniques, but we have a long way to go before a commute to work or a bike ride to a Saturday night out with friends can be accomplished entirely on safe, dedicated transportation space.

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If you have been injured or if someone you love has died in a traffic accident, contact Dave Thomas at the Thomas Law Firm for a free evaluation of your legal rights. The Thomas Law Firm can help you recover compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, rehabilitation costs, loss of companionship, and pain and suffering.

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