Heat waves and fatal traffic crashes in the continental United States

Authors: Connor Y.H. Wu*, Department of Geospatial Informatics, College of Arts and Sciences, Troy University, Benjamin F. Zaitchik, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts & Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, Julia M. Gohlke, Department of Population Health Sciences, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Tech
Topics: Transportation Geography, Hazards and Vulnerability, United States
Keywords: Climate change; Heat waves; Fatal traffic crashes; Traffic safety; Case-crossover design
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Balcony B, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This study examined 1) the associations between heat waves and fatal traffic crashes in the continental United States (US), and 2) whether the associations would be different when the analysis was stratified by drivers’ gender, age, body mass index (BMI), as well as day of the week, time of day, speed limit, rural/urban roadways and other meteorological factors (i.e., solar radiation and precipitation). The time-stratified case-crossover design was applied to examine associations during May-September of 2001-2011. We used gridded 12.5 km2 air temperatures from the North American Land Data Assimilation System (NLDAS) to calculate the heat wave index (defined as the daily mean temperature >95% threshold for ≥2 consecutive days) and fatal traffic crash records (including dates, locations, and driver’s demographic information) from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). We found a significant positive association showing a 3.9% (95% CI: 0.4, 7.6%) increase in fatal traffic crashes during heat wave days. Results show stronger associations for 56–65 years old drivers [8.2% (0.3, 16.7%)] and driving on rural roadways [6.1% (2.8, 9.6%)]. Meanwhile, a positive association was only present when the heat wave days were characterized by no precipitation [10.9% (7.3%, 14.6%)] and medium or high solar radiation [24.6% (19.9%, 29.5%) and 19.9% (15.6%, 24.4%), respectively]. These findings are helpful for developing targeted interventions to improve transportation safety during an extreme heat event.

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