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More Americans Die on Rural Roads

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In these budget-strapped times, states are devising ways to save lives on their quiet country roads, where more people die than their well-trafficked urban counterparts. In 2008, 56% of 37,261 U.S. traffic deaths occurred on rural roads, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

This may sound like only a sliver more than the percentage of fatalities on urban roads, but only 23% of the U.S. population lives in rural areas.

While more accidents occur in urban centers, fewer result in vehicle occupant fatalities. There are several factors at play. People tend to drive faster on rural roads, which themselves are not as well engineered as urban roads. Also, people drive drunk more frequently and wear seat belts less often in rural areas.

Take South Carolina, where 95% of traffic deaths occur on rural roads, which is the highest rate in the country, and 80% of those deaths involve alcohol. This has led the state highway patrol to create a unit that targets drunken drivers, and the state is retrofitting 1,600 miles of road with rumble strips to alert drivers when they’re drifting off the pavement.

Another issue is emergency first responders. In Montana, the average response time is 80 minutes compared to 15 minutes in Massachusetts (the state with the lowest percentage of rural deaths), according to the Montana Department of Transportation. Montana has engineers building “overcrosses” and “undercrosses” for the state’s wildlife to help keep big animals like elk and deer off the roads.

Other states like Iowa and Missouri are taking steps to curb rural accidents with public information campaigns and adding rumble strips both to the edges and centerlines of roads.

Interestingly, these traffic fatalities do not correlate to an increase in traffic deaths, which have seen a decline over the last year due to people traveling less. Even rural fatalities have declined steadily since 2002 when they reached 25,896. Last year, they numbered 20,905, a decline that could be due to improvements in vehicle safety.

More Motorists Die on Rural Roads (USA Today)