Fatal car crashes

The differing road network density, travel patterns and roadway characteristics of urban and rural areas mean large differences in fatal car crash statistics. For example, crashes that involve the death of a pedestrian and deaths at intersections are much more common in urban areas, whereas a larger proportion of large truck occupant deaths and deaths on high-speed roads happen in rural areas. According to a report released by the Insurance Institute of for Highway Safety (IIHS), Highway Loss Data Institute, only 19 percent of people in the U.S. live in rural areas but 30 percent of the vehicle miles traveled occur in rural areas along with more than half of crash deaths.

Urban vs. rural fatal car crash statistics

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) has been providing reliable information on rural and urban areas since 1977. According to their data, a total of 35,092 people died in all motor vehicle crashes in 2015. While there has been a general downward trend in the proportion of crash deaths in rural areas since 1999, (declining from 61 percent in 1999 to 53 percent in 2015) the fatality rate per 100 million miles traveled in 2015 was still 2.6 times higher in rural areas than in urban areas (1.84 in rural areas compared with 0.71 in urban areas). Between 1977 and 2015 the fatality rate decreased by 58 percent in rural areas (from 4.35 to 1.84) and by 70 percent in urban areas (from 2.35 to 0.71), explaining the higher rate of crash deaths in rural areas today.

Differences between urban and rural fatal car accident statistics (2015):

  • While approximately 70 percent of pickup and large truck occupant deaths and 60 percent of SUV occupant deaths occurred in rural areas, the majority of pedestrian, motorcyclist and bicyclist deaths occurred in urban areas.
  • Rural areas experienced more of their fatal car accidents on collector roads* (39 percent) compared to urban areas (six percent). Fourty-two percent of car crash deaths in rural areas occurred on interstates or other arterial roads compared to 77 percent for urban areas. *A collector road, also called a distributor road, is a low-to-moderate-capacity road meant to move traffic from local, possibly residential streets onto arterial roads.
  • Only 16 percent of car crash deaths in rural areas happened at intersections, while 32 percent happened in urban areas.

Similarities between rural and urban fatal car crashes:

  • Single-vehicle crash deaths in 2015 were about even with 55 percent happening in rural areas compared to 54 percent in urban areas.
  • Speeding has been a known factor in about one-third of crash deaths in both rural and urban areas since 2006.
  • According to a national daytime observational survey of motorists in 2015, safety belts were used by front seat occupants 87 percent of the time in rural areas and 89 percent in urban areas.
  • Between 1982 and 1994, the percentage of drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 percent who were fatally injured in car crashes declined steadily from 49 percent in both rural and urban areas to 34 percent in rural areas and to 32 percent in urban areas.

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