If you’ve never made a connection between traffic accidents and social capital, you’re probably not alone. However, the Harvard Business Review (HBR) is reporting on research by Matthew G. Nagler of the City College of New York which found, perhaps surprisingly, that a 5% increase in the average level of agreement with the statement "most people are honest" within a U.S. state results in a decline in traffic fatalities in that state by about 11%. The “most people are honest” statement is a measure of trust in others that is an indicator of the state's level of social capital, sometimes defined as a willingness to engage in community activities. Less-conscientious people who reject civic engagement presumably drive more recklessly, HBR reported.
Nagler’s abstract for the research, to be published next month in the journal Economic Inquiry, explains that “evidence that social capital reduces traffic accidents and related death and injury, using data from a 10‐year panel of 48 U.S. states show that social capital has a statistically significant and sizable negative effect on crashes, traffic fatalities, serious traffic injuries, and pedestrian fatalities that holds up across a range of specifications.”
In case you were wondering, Nagler – an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics - did not want the research unduly impacted by snow-related accidents, so he used only data from summer months. The research data used was from 1997 to 2006. His research paper is entitled “Does Social Capital Promote Safety on the Roads?”
The death toll in the U.S. from traffic accidents has been approximately 43,000 deaths annually, according to the report. Traffic fatalities remain a major cause of death at all ages and the leading cause for persons under the age of 44.
In the paper’s conclusion, Nagler notes that the results of his study “parallel prior findings with respect to social capital’s beneficial effects on economic growth and various health outcomes.” In 2004, a study by three University of Connecticut researchers found that social capital is associated with decreased risk of hunger.“Households may have similarly limited financial or food resources, but households with higher levels of social capital are less likely to experience hunger,” they concluded.