Cathryn Beeson-Lynch

Researchers, Dr. Joshua Goldstein, a sociology professor at Princeton University, and Dr. Guy Stecklov of Hebrew University, found a link between terrorist attacks and traffic accidents. The study examined an 18-month period between 2001 and 2002 in Israel. It showed that on the third day following terror attacks the number of fatal traffic accidents increased by 35 percent. The percent increased to 69 when the terror attacks killed 10 or more people.

In order to conduct their study, Stecklov and Goldstein examined the records of terrorist attacks in Israel and the country’s traffic statistics. After analyzing 63 terror attacks, they found statistically significant effects on the number of fatal traffic accidents. In conjunction with increased fatalities on the third day following the attack, researchers also found a decrease in the number of less serious, non-fatal accidents. They speculated that the decrease might have resulted from a decrease in accident reports rather than a legitimate decrease in the number of minor accidents. One hypothesis for the increase is that some of the fatal accidents are suicides. This hypothesis mirrors ideas supported by other studies on suicides, which found that traffic fatalities increase three days after highly publicized fatalities and suicides.

Researchers are still exploring the connection between the two events. However, they view the study as a critical first step in combining social science techniques with questions concerning the material consequences of terrorism. Specifically, the research provides implications for the bridge between the sociological study of society-wide effects and the psychological study of individual-level mental reactions to catastrophic events. A psychology professor at Princeton University, Dr. Eldar Shafir, calls for more psychologists to become engaged in this particular study because it calls into question how people make decisions in situations marked by uncertainty and conflict. Therefore, while there is no conclusive evidence to support the connection between terrorist attacks and the subsequent increase in fatal car crashes, it does provide implications for further questions pertaining to the social and psychological consequences of terrorist attacks.


Time series for traffic volume, traffic accidents, and terror fatalities in Israel from January 1, 2001, to June 22, 2002. (a) As measured on the Ayalon Freeway by the Ayalon Freeway Management Company. Traffic volume is a measure of the average flow of vehicles per hour. Peak traffic hours refer to traffic between 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Off-peak traffic hours refer to 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. (b-d) All three accident categories refer to the number of persons injured or killed in automobile-related accidents. Light accident injuries refer to injuries that require no more than 24 h of hospitalization. Serious accident injuries refer to those requiring >24 h of hospitalization. (e) Terror fatalities defined as terror events within Israel (excluding West Bank and Gaza) with at least one Israeli fatality. The dashed line marks particularly large terror attacks with 10 or more fatalities (source).

Works Cited:

  • Stecklov, G. “Terror Attacks Influence Driving Behavior in Israel.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences101.40 (2004): 14551-4556. PNAS Online. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.