In one of those odd uses of statistics, higher gasoline prices have been associated with fewer deaths from car accidents, says a researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

An analysis of yearly vehicle deaths compared to gas prices found death rates drop significantly as people slow down and drive less. If gas remains at $4 a gallon or higher for a year or more, traffic deaths could drop by more than 1,000 per month nationwide, said Michael Morrisey, Ph.D., director of UAB's Lister Hill Center for Health Policy and a co-author on the new findings.

This means if we raise the price to $10 a gallon people might never die, right? Likewise if we drop the speed limit to 5 MPH or eliminate cars, there would be fewer deaths.

The UAB-Harvard findings also showed that the more restrictive graduated license programs helped reduce traffic deaths by 24 percent among drivers aged 15 to 17.

"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 percent rise in gas prices, fatalities are reduced by 2.3 percent. The effects are even more dramatic for teen drivers."

It's true that if people can't afford to drive there will be fewer accidents but that's not really a better society.

The results come after earlier research by the coauthors found lower gas prices have the opposite effect by wiping away many of lifesaving outcomes from the enactment of mandatory seatbelt laws, lower blood alcohol limits and graduated drivers licenses for youth. The research included death rates and gas-price changes from 1985 through 2006, and the calculated percent reduction in fatalities can be extrapolated to 2008 and beyond, Morrisey said.

The early results were presented in June at a health economist meeting in North Carolina. A coauthor on the report is David Grabowski, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School.

The research was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.