Common sense suggests it’s safer to drive in wide-open rural areas than in crowded urban centers. But in truth, city driving is safer than rural driving.
To be sure, cities have far more vehicles and thus more accidents. But statistically, your chance of a fatal car wreck is higher in the country, where drivers are more likely — and able — to speed, where many roads aren’t divided as in cities and where emergency rooms aren’t as readily available.
According to a rural/urban comparison by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), 19% of Americans lived in rural areas in 2010, yet they accounted for 55% of all traffic fatalities. That’s almost three times their proportionate amount.
Also, the 19% who live in rural areas accounted for 40% of vehicle miles traveled. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that while city drivers still cover more miles, they have only half of fatal crashes. Overall, rural drivers die 2.5 times more per mile traveled than do city drivers.
The NTSB says the safest driving state is Massachusetts, while the least safe driving states are the far less populous Wyoming, North Dakota, Mississippi, Arkansas and Montana.
Massachusetts had 5.1 traffic deaths per 100,000 residents. Arkansas had 20.3, North Dakota 21.6, Montana 22.7, Mississippi 23.7 and Wyoming had 24.6, the worst. Texas was in the middle with 12.4 traffic deaths for every 100,000 residents.
Again, that’s not to say more total crashes don’t happen in populous areas. The Arizona Department of Transportation’s crash facts for 2013 show that over 81% of total crashes in 2013 were in urban areas, while just under 19% were in rural areas.
But fatal crashes are another thing. In increasingly urban Texas last year, 1,737 fatal crashes were in rural areas, while 1,452 were in urban areas. Thus, more than half of fatal crashes in Texas in 2014 were in rural locations, reports the Texas Department of Transportation.
Overall, according to USA Today, car crashes kill almost 28 of every 100,000 people in rural areas, but just 10 of every 100,000 people in cities.
Beyond a higher risk of death, rural crashes can cause more severe injuries. The Arizona study showed that 7.66% of injuries in urban areas were incapacitating. But in the state’s less populous rural areas, 12.45% of car crash injuries were incapacitating.
In Texas in 2014, 25% of rural crash injuries were incapacitating injuries, while just 15% of urban crash injuries were incapacitating.
Among reasons why rural driving is more dangerous is the fact that rural drivers tend to drive greater distances for more hours, and while they’re on rural roads with little traffic and higher speed limits, they tend to drive faster.
With few rural roads separated by dividers, high-speed rural collisions have a greater chance of being head-on collisions, which are among the worst kind. By contrast, stop-and-start driving is slower in cities filled with traffic lights, intersections and vehicle congestion.
Drunk driving rates also are higher in rural areas, where 55% of the nation’s drunk driving fatalities occurred in 2010, USA Today reported. Also, rural drivers face threats from deer, livestock and other animals wandering onto rural roads, which are less likely to be illuminated at night than are city streets.
Rural roads also tend to be more narrow, and objects just off roadways, such as trees, are closer to traffic lanes and pose a greater threat. In addition, rough roads and unmarked farm and field entrances can pose problems. Slow-moving farm tractors also can cause dangers on rural roads.
As noted earlier, rural accidents tend to occur farther from hospitals and emergency rooms. This fact alone makes post-accident risks higher than for drivers in cities. Cities also tend to have lower speed limits and more safety engineering elements such as divided roadways.
Jim Adler & Associates supports safety on our roads and urges you to drive to arrive alive, whether it’s on long and relatively deserted country roads or on busy, crowded streets in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio or other Texas urban areas.