EHS OutLoud Blog
The Rural Driving Risk

The Rural Driving Risk

When we escape from the city and take a long, leisurely drive along a country road, probably the last thing on our minds is that rural driving could be more dangerous than fighting through city traffic. But according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more people die in rural vehicle accidents than in the urban concrete jungle.

In its July 2012 report, "Rural/Urban Comparison,” NHTSA offers some staggering statistics on motor vehicle fatal crashes: “Although 19 percent of the U.S. Population lived in rural areas in 2010, rural fatalities accounted for 55 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2010."

Let’s do the math. That means that 81 percent of the U.S. population lived in urban areas in 2010 and urban fatalities accounted for 44 percent (NHTSA data) of all traffic fatalities in 2010. The remaining 1 percent is unaccounted for.

We can speculate that urbanites tend to rely more on mass transportation and therefore utilize their vehicles far less than the rural counterparts. That explains the imbalance in the numbers. This logic makes sense until you take look at NHTSA’s normalized data graphically displayed in Figure 2 of the report: “Fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled by year and location.” In fact, NHTSA reports, “In 2010, the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 2.5 times higher in rural areas than in urban areas.” There goes that theory.

A silver lining in NHTSA’s report is the fact that, between 2001 and 2010, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities decreased significantly: The report found a 30 percent reduction for rural and 14 percent reduction in urban.

Buckle Up

Now the shocker: NHTSA reported that in 2010, 53 percent of the passenger vehicle occupants killed in rural areas were unrestrained (not wearing seatbelts) compared to 48 percent of urban passenger vehicle occupants killed.”

Really, people??? I suppose the “it cannot happen to me” myth has unfortunately been debunked once again. The report also highlights that occupants of pickup and light trucks and sport utility vehicles have the highest unrestrained fatality rates. And speeders are more likely to die at night and during the weekend, according to the NHTSA, regardless of where you live.

Oftentimes, we feel secure taking the leisurely stroll through back roads. But maybe this feeling of security may be unfounded. But according to the data in this report, there are several things we can do to potentially increase our chances of seeing the wonder of tomorrow during our road trips: Stay off the alcohol and impairing chemicals, keep your eyes on the road and off the llamas and strap on that flexible thing that keeps you from going through the windshield.

TAGS: Safety
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