US: More pain at pumps, less pain in hospital

Researchers from the American University of Alabama at Birmingham have discovered a silver lining to sky-rocketing vehicle fuel prices - fewer deaths from car accidents. An analysis of yearly vehicle deaths compared to petrol prices found death rates drop significantly as people slow down and drive less.

The study showed that if petrol prices remain at US$4 a gallon or higher for a year or more, traffic deaths could drop by more than 1,000 a month across the country according to co-author Dr Michael Morrisey.

"It is remarkable to think that a percent change in gas prices can equal lives saved, which is what our data show," Morrisey said. "For every 10% rise in gas prices, fatalities are reduced by 2.3% [and] the effects are even more dramatic for teen drivers."

The research included death rates and petrol-price changes from 1985 to 2006, and the calculated percentage reduction in fatalities can be extrapolated to 2008 and beyond.

The results come after earlier research by the co-authors found lower petrol prices cause more road deaths and injuries, even reversing gains in road safety caused by the enactment of mandatory seat belt laws, lower blood alcohol limits and restricted driving licences for youths.