By Barbara Kessler

The upside of high gas prices is becoming evident as Americans flock to dealers of small and hybrid cars, revealing that we can, if whacked in the wallet, lower our greenhouse gas emissions.

There’s another silver lining not so readily apparent, but quite compelling. According to researchers at the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB) when people curb their driving, both by slowing down and driving less, traffic fatalities decline as well.

After studying driving fatalities and gas prices dating back to the 1985, these health policy experts are predicting that the current gas prices of $4 a gallon (or more), if sustained for at least a year, could bring a drop in traffic fatalities of more than 1,000 a month nationwide.

Michael Morrisey, Ph.D., director of UAB’s Lister Hill Center for Health Policy, and David Grabowski, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School co-authored on the study. The two, who worked together at UAB, also have studied other factors that affect traffic fatalities such as higher beer taxes, graduated driving laws and tighter blood alcohol limits, said Troy Goodman, a UAB spokesman.

While all of these factors played a positive role ,“the most startling affect was this rise in gas prices,” Goodman said.

Morrisey himself expressed some surprise at the results, which were formally released Friday, but said the findings show a clear correlation between high gas prices and “lives saved.”

“For every 10 percent rise in gas prices, fatalities are reduced by 2.3 percent. The effects are even more dramatic for teen drivers,” he said.

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