NHTSA Figures Show More Traffic Deaths Occur on Rural Roads Than City Streets

Less than one-fourth of Americans live in rural areas, but more than half of all traffic deaths in 2008 happened on rural roads, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures.

The NHTSA said more crashes happen in cities but produce fewer fatalities.

USA Today has created an interactive U.S. map showing 2008 traffic deaths on rural roads. The story accompanying the map explained the reasoning behind rural fatalities, saying:

"People drive faster on rural roads, which are not as well-engineered as urban highways, increasing the likelihood of death or severe injury in crashes, [Lee Munnich, director of the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety at the University of Minnesota] says. Other factors: behavioral differences, including more drunken driving and less use of seat belts in rural areas, and slower delivery of acute medical care.

"In Montana, the average response time for emergency medical rescue is about 80 minutes, compared with about 15 minutes in Massachusetts, says Jim Lynch, director of the Montana Department of Transportation."

I looked back at a 1964 study of traffic-related fatalities in rural and urban California and found that the trends we see today existed even then.

Here is a 10-year trend chart showing rural and urban highway deaths.

The NHTSA has provided lots of helpful data (all of which is in PDF form) that can help you cover this topic:

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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