Even the most innocuous infrastructural details can have huge impacts on our world, and today, on The Atlantic Cities, Sarah Goodyear takes a look at one of the most interesting correlations: How E-ZPasses reduce pollution, which could in turn lower premature birth rates.

Goodyear's story focuses on a study carried out as part of a MacArthur Foundation project on housing, which looked at the effects of installing E-ZPass stations along highways in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Because cars don't have to do a lot of starting and stopping, the devices cut down on pollution—but another pattern emerged, too:

After analyzing birth records, researchers estimated that among the 30,000 births to mothers living within two kilometers of a toll plaza, 255 premature births and 275 low-birth-weight births were avoided. In dollar terms, the researchers – writing in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics – estimate the savings was between $9.8 and $13 million.


"The findings show that installing an E-ZPass toll booth, which lowers traffic congestion and pollution, improves infant health," explains the MacAurthur Foundation in a release about the research titled Does Living Along a Busy Highway Increase Premature Births? (PDF).

Now hang on a sec!, you're probably saying, there's no direct link between birth rate and the E-ZPasses. You're right—this is a perfect example of correlation rather than causation. Linking something as specific as an E-ZPass to premature births is a stretch, but the link between pollution and low birth weight, as well as other complications, is well-proven.

The E-ZPass bit is just a way to reduce pollution in a given area—along with better urban planning, restrictions on vehicle emissions, and any number of other solutions. And that's always a good thing. [The Atlantic Cities]


Image: Virginia Department of Transportation.