Whatever our political views may be about the causes, long-term weather data indicates that our winters in New York are getting warmer and our summers hotter. Statistically, traffic accidents increase as the temperatures go up. This post will look at some possible reasons. 

The first study of its kind

In the book How Climate Change Effects Traffic Accidents, authors Benjamin Laird and Kevin Roth studied the impact of weather conditions on accidents resulting in a) only property damage to the vehicles; b) injury to one or more persons in the vehicles involved; and c) death of one or more persons in the vehicles involved. The results of their research were not too surprising when the weather was cooler. In short, colder days contributed to an increase of property damage accidents by about 10 percent. Days with light rainfall saw accidents increase by nearly 20 percent. Days with snowfall of just 3 cm or more saw an increase in property damage accidents of more than 43 percent.

Similarly, the pattern of increased accident rates involving injuries falls in line with what we might expect with colder, wetter road conditions. Perhaps due to generally slower speeds in poor conditions, though, the rate of increase drops off a bit when compared to injury accidents in warmer, drier weather.

But the statistics start to change for fatal accidents

As we said, not too surprising so far. However, the authors’ research also revealed some unexpected statistics when researching fatal motor vehicle accidents occurring in warm weather. For the purposes of their study, they described “warmer weather” as temperatures above 80° F., compared to temperatures above 50° F. Traffic statistics show that roadway deaths in hotter weather increase by approximately nine percent. The authors determined that more than half of the increase could be directly attributable to more people using the roads, for car touring, bicycling, walking and riding motorcycles.

To the author’s surprise, however, days with more than a trace of rain actually reduced the number of road accident fatalities. Why? Probably due to the fewer number of people on the streets during inclement weather.

A mixed picture

It is difficult to determine whether the changing weather patterns are affecting the accident rates, or people are changing their driving behaviors as the weather patterns change. What is certain is, however, is that we can expect more research released by auto insurance companies and government organizations to help us make sense of how to deal with the realities of warmer springs and summers.