Wow, I don't even know what to make of the arguments contained in this article from Brad Plummer over at Ezra Klein's house. Here is the graph that gets the whole thing rolling:
The graph shows that traffic fatalities per mile driven have been on the decline of late; but even more importantly, there appears to be a general trend towards fewer traffic fatalities during all of our post-war recessions.
Plummer, speaking with the economist who composed the above graph, provides the following theories to explain the trend:
1) less drunk driving: during recessions people have less money, therefore they drink less and therefore there are fewer alcohol related fatalities.
2) during good economies people have places to be and people to see, whereas during recessions people have less urgent demands.
Clearly I am in no position to judge the validity of either theory, but I wonder to what extent the immiseration of a recession effects the distribution of fatalities in general. Could it be that people are dying in different ways during a recession than they would during boom-times and is that showing up in the data as a decrease in traffic-related fatalities?