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Why are rural roads so much more deadly? New report explores

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Washington — Although only 19% of people in the United States live in rural areas, half of all fatal roadway crashes happen on rural roads, a recent analysis from the Governors Highway Safety Association shows.

Looking at 2016-2020 data – the most recent available – from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, researchers found that more than 85,000 people died in crashes on rural roads. Overall, the risk of dying in a crash on a rural road was 62% higher than a same-length trip on an urban road.

The risky behaviors that were the biggest contributors to those crashes: not wearing a seat belt, speeding, driving distracted and driving impaired. Others include a lack of safety resources, poor emergency medical services and simpler roadway infrastructure.

Key findings from America’s Rural Roads: Beautiful and Deadly include:

  • More men (59,793) died in crashes on rural roads than women (25,151).
  • 43% of alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities occurred on rural roads.
  • Nearly half of fatalities involving distracted drivers (46%) occurred on rural roads – a disproportionate percentage based on population numbers.

“Roads are the backbone of rural America, connecting far-flung communities and families,” GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said in a press release. “While cities and urban areas have alternatives to driving, that’s not the case for people in rural areas. Unfortunately, the dangerous and deadly driving behaviors that have increased during the pandemic have taken an oversized toll on rural residents. Making rural roads safer is essential for achieving the national goal of zero fatalities.”

The National Safety Council supports a Safe System approach to reducing roadway deaths. Learn more on the NSC website.

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