City driver/country driver – who is safer?

New research shows there’s something to be said for urban gridlock after all

By Jim Gorzelany
CTW Features

While those driving the open roads in rural America don’t have to put up with snarling traffic jams, maniac motorists and the unpredictable nature of taxi cabs, buses and bicyclists, statistics suggest they’re actually at greater risk of getting into a fatal wreck than city dwellers.

Based on a report on road-crash mortality written by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute’s Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, the states posting the highest annual number of traffic fatalities per capita tend to be those having the most wide-open spaces. Montana, with 96 percent of its roads situated in rural areas, leads the pack in this regard with 22.6 annual highway deaths per 100,000 residents. By contrast, gridlocked Washington, D.C. with exactly zero miles of rural roads recorded just 3.1 deaths per 100,000 citizens in 2013, the most recent year for which such figures are available.

Apparently, one is less likely to be killed in a crash while maneuvering side streets and crawling along in highway rush-hour traffic than driving on open roads and highways at posted speeds that, among the states having the highest fatality rates, max out at between 70-80 mph. “Speed is likely to be among the most important causative factors,” says Sivak, also noting regional differences in alcohol consumption, age distribution of drivers, driver aggression and other variables.

Miles driven also seems to matter, if for no other reason it statistically increases the odds of getting into a crash. According to data compiled by the Federal Highway Administration, the five states recording the highest per-capita vehicle death rates average 15,663 annual miles driven per licensed motorist, while those living in the five states having the lowest fatality rates average just 11,676 miles each.

Climate can also be a factor. Though some of us might argue that the crippling snowfalls in Alaska, Minnesota and Utah might bring motorists to the edge of road-rage-inducing insanity, they’re all actually among the 10 states having the least number of per-capita highway deaths. Though we’ve seen far too many overconfident 4X4 drivers attempt to violate the laws of physics under such conditions, motorists tend to slow down when the roads are snow-packed, which could account for the lower numbers in those wide-open states.

We’re featuring lists of the statistically safest and deadliest states in the accompanying box, noting the average per-capita fatality rates, percentage of rural roads and maximum speed limits for each.

The bottom line here is the same no matter whether one lives in the city or the country: Exercise caution whenever hitting the road, always buckle seatbelts, and ensure children are properly restrained in age/weight-appropriate car seats, avoid distractions and never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

© CTW Features


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