Feb. 9 (UPI) -- Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have found a decrease in the number of people driving correlates with a marked decrease in traffic fatalities.
The new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that a significant decrease in vehicle travel form 2003 to 2014 is linked to a decrease in the number of vehicle fatalities in the United States.
Motor vehicle deaths are the leading cause of early death with more than 30,000 fatalities from car crashes in the United States annually.
The study showed that between 2004 and 2014, per-capita driving decreased by roughly 600 miles each year with millennials born in the 1980s and 1990s seeing the largest decline.
Vehicle travel decreased by 9.2 minutes per day from 2003 to 2014 with the largest decline in men aged 20 to 29. During this time period, motor vehicle fatalities showed marked declines among young men.
"Safer cars and better driving training could explain this decline, but the decrease could also be explained by the large and significant drop in driving," Noreen McDonald, Ph.D., chair and associate professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of the study, said in a press release. "Analyses of exposure-adjusted death rates show small declines, suggesting that decreased exposure explains much of the decline in the population-adjusted death rate."
The reduction in driving seemed to correlate with the global economic crisis, rising gas prices and a shift in lifestyle habits.
However, the decline in driving did not translate into an increase in exercise levels, which remained unchanged during the study period.
"These results accord with analyses from the transport literature that show the drop in driving occurred because Americans were going fewer places, not because they were switching from cars to travel by bus, foot, or bicycle," McDonald said.
The decline in driving resulted in less people on roadways and lower numbers of fatalities.
"Our analysis shows that the nearly unprecedented decade-long decline in fatalities that the U.S. experienced through 2014 was connected to declining driving," McDonald said. "This greatly benefited public health through reduced roadway fatalities. The challenge that we must all now work towards is how to maintain the safety record on American roads as population growth, low gas prices and an improving economy lead to more travel."