Alarming rise in Israeli road deaths after terror attacks shown by researchers

09/26/04

Terror attacks in Israel produce an alarming though temporary rise in the number of people killed in road accidents, a study conducted by Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Princeton University researchers has found.

In an analysis of road death statistics, the researchers – Dr. Guy Stecklov of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Dr. Joshua Goldstein of Princeton University found that there is a 35 percent rise in the traffic accident fatality rate three days after a terror attack, compared to an average day. There is even a more dramatic jump – 69 percent – in the fatality rate after particularly deadly terror attacks, in which 10 or more people are killed. The fatality rate is a measure of the number of road fatalities in a particular period, divided by the number of cars on the road at that time.

Stecklov and Goldstein's findings are reported in the American journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In their analysis of statistics from Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, the researchers found that on the day after a terror attack and the following day, there is no marked change in the traffic accident fatality rate. (The average daily number of fatalities on Israeli roads is 1.3). The change occurs only on the third day, thereafter appearing to drop rapidly again to average to normal rates.

Why this should be is a matter of conjecture, based on sociological and psychological explanations following traumatic events in other countries.

Stecklov says that a possible explanation is that after a terror attack people behave more considerately, but after this initial period of restraint there is a release of bottled-up emotion that expresses itself in more aggressive behavior, including a temporary increase in fatal road accidents.

Perhaps, too, he adds this kind of aggressiveness is another manifestation of the well-known phenomenon of mimicking behavior documented in earlier studies, showing how violence – whether actual or fictional — as shown in the media is often followed by waves of real-life increases in violent behavior, including suicides and homicides in the population.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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