Fatal Traffic Accidents Rise After Terrorism

Deadly Wrecks in Israel Jump 35% After Attacks

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 20, 2004 -- Terrorism's lethal ripple effects can last beyond an attack's immediate devastation. In Israel, fatal car wrecks jump by 35% three days after a terror attack, according to a new study.

The study was conducted by Guy Stecklov, PhD, MA, of Hebrew University's department of sociology and anthropology in Jerusalem and Joshua R. Goldstein, PhD, associate sociology and public affairs professor and faculty associate with Princeton University's Office of Population Research.

Stecklov and Goldstein examined traffic flow, accident records, and terror attacks in Israel from January 2001 through June 2002.

The data included all terror attacks with at least one fatality in Israel. It did not include the West Bank and Gaza.

The researchers found a 35% spike in fatal traffic accidents three days after terror attacks.

The effect was even worse after large terror attacks.

When 10 or more people died in a terror attack, Israel's fatal wrecks soared by 69% three days later.

Temporary Effect

The spike in fatal traffic accidents was unique to the third day after attacks.

By the fourth day, rates returned to normal. In addition, deadly wrecks didn't change on the day of the attack, or for the next two days.

Researchers aren't sure how to explain the third-day phenomenon.

Some traffic fatalities might be suicides. However, it's hard to get solid suicide data in Israel, where people may be reluctant to call deaths suicides "because of religious restrictions on the burial of suicide victims in Jewish cemeteries," say the researchers.

Another reason might be the stress of trying to return to routine too soon.

"Those exposed to terror may try to return to their normal routines but are not yet psychologically, and perhaps physiologically, sufficiently recovered," write the researchers.

A third possibility is that for the first two days after an attack, people may bond, pull together, and accommodate each other more than normal.

In fact, light accidents dropped in Israel by nearly 6% on the first day after attacks.

That may be because people are more courteous to other drivers during that time, or they may choose not to report fender benders, keeping minor annoyances in perspective in light of somber events.

By the third day, aggression may kick in, displacing some of the graciousness seen immediately after the attack.

"The increase may also reveal a more general delayed reaction to violence and stress," write the researchers.

Long-term health problems may also stem from terrorism. For instance, the researchers say stress-related heart attacks may take their toll months or years later.

The study appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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SOURCES: Stecklov, G. and Goldstein, J. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online early edition. News release, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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