A disproportionate number of Americans die in crashes on rural roads compared with those in urban areas. Why? A number of factors that have contributed to the annual 17,000 rural road fatalities include risky driver behavior, simpler roadway infrastructure, lack of safety resources and poor emergency medical service.
These are the findings from the report “America’s Rural Roads: Beautiful and Deadly,” released in September by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). The report focused on the five-year period from 2016 to 2020. During that time, 85,002 people died in crashes on the country’s rural roads.
Indiana has its share of rural road deaths
Among some key findings in the report include 45% of all fatal crashes in the country occurred on rural roads, despite the fact that just 19% of Americans live in rural areas. Also, states with higher maximum speed limits usually have more fatalities on rural roads than states with lower speed limits.
Indiana has its share of deaths on rural roads, ranking 19th in the nation in deaths per 100,000 population. The state recorded 1.4 fatalities on rural roads per 100,000 population, the same as Virginia and Wisconsin. The three states with the highest number of fatalities on rural roads per 100,000 population were South Carolina (6.1), Mississippi (3.8) and Alabama (2.8).
Risky driver behavior, limited resources
But here is a deeper look into some of the factors contributing to higher dangers on rural roads:
- Risky driver behavior: This includes failure to wear seat belts, use of alcohol or drugs, speeding and distraction. An estimated 58% of the people who died in rural road crashes were not wearing seat belts. Roughly 43% of alcohol-related traffic deaths occurred on rural roads. Speeding contributed to 27% of rural road fatalities as fatal crashes involving high speeds of more than 100 miles per hour were more predominate on rural roads. And during the study’s five-year period, 7,699 people died in distracted driving incidents.
- Rural communities have limited resources: Lack of funding, fewer government officials and emergency responders may lead to ineffective policies and response times to public safety matters. Without enough funds, some rural roads may lack signage or lighting, and emergency responders may not have the right equipment.
- Rural culture: Rural residents seem to be more reliant on themselves and their communities and not so receptive to outside organizations such as the government telling them what to do. This philosophy of self-reliance leads to resistance to the top-down approach in decision-making. Messages geared toward urban audiences do not translate well with rural audiences.
The GHSA report also noted that roadway departures and head-on collisions accounted for the most common types of fatal crashes on rural roads, and that young people continue to be among those most at risk in dying in a rural car crash.
Continued focus on safety
Road safety must continue to be addressed everywhere in rural and urban areas. The GHSA report’s findings are disturbing. If you have been injured in any motor vehicle accidents caused by the negligence of other drivers and even government entities, you may be entitled to compensation.