Terrorism Linked to Traffic Accidents

By Zach Zorich|Sunday, February 06, 2005

The stress created by terrorism can affect an entire population, with potentially fatal consequences, sociologists say. Guy Stecklov of Hebrew University and Joshua Goldstein of Princeton University compared the pattern of Israeli automobile accidents over 18 months to the timing of suicide bombings there. They found a significant increase—69 percent—in traffic fatalities three days after attacks that claimed more than 10 lives. Those that took fewer lives correlated with smaller increases in the number of accidents.

 “These terror attacks have consequences that ripple through people’s lives,” Goldstein says. “We don’t think that traffic accidents are the main outcome; they happen to be the outcome we can measure.” Why it takes three days for the increase in traffic fatalities to occur remains a mystery. Goldstein theorizes that people avoid traveling immediately after a major attack but then return to their normal activities before they have recovered from their post-traumatic stress. Why the accidents occur is less of a mystery: Previous research has linked high stress levels to aggressive driving. Goldstein and Stecklov next plan to study the effect of terrorism-related stress on tobacco consumption and heart attacks.

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