Study: Roads are safer in urban areas


By Larry Copeland, USA TODAY
Your odds of dying in a motor vehicle crash vary
dramatically because of one simple thing: where you

The safest places to drive in the USA are  
Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts. Among the
most dangerous: Montana, Wyoming, Louisiana and

Mississippi. Those conclusions are based on
federal data of traffic fatalities per 100,000
population and per 100 million miles driven.

The primary reason for the difference: Urban roads
are safer than rural roads.

Highway death rates

DRIVING: States take aim at distracted pedestrians

Even in states with low overall road death rates,
rural areas often have rates twice as high as urban
ones. That's because urban areas usually have
roads with lower speed limits, more safety
engineering features such as divided highways and
faster access to emergency medical care than rural
routes. Many rural deaths occur when vehicles leave
the road and crash into trees or other obstructions.

"An urban state in the Northeast is going to have a
much lower fatality rate than a rural Western state
with a lot of high-speed, two-lane rural roads,
where serious crashes are more likely to happen,"
says Russ Rader, spokesman for the
Institute for Highway Safety.

Many traffic safety groups such as the Governors
Highway Safety Association argue that such
comparisons don't accurately reflect how safe a
state's roads are. A better measure, they say, is
whether states have enacted proven safety
enhancements such as motorcycle helmet laws and
primary seat belt laws, which allow police to stop
motorists solely for being unbuckled.

State legislatures around the country are gearing up
this month to debate scores of highway safety
measures that address everything from texting while
driving to booster-seat use.

The National Transportation Safety Board urges
states to adopt five "most wanted" safety measures,
covering extreme drunken driving, seat belt use,
child-occupant protection, eliminating distractions
for young drivers and motorcycle safety.

Judith Stone, president of Washington, D.C.-based
Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety, says the
group does not consider fatalities when issuing its
annual report card on states. "We look at laws and
whether they've been passed," Stone says.

Advocates of stronger laws say it's difficult to
persuade a state such as New Hampshire, which has
no seat belt or motorcycle helmet laws, to enact
such rules when its death rate is below the U.S.
average. "States like ... New Hampshire could
certainly save more lives by passing stronger laws,"
says governors safety association spokesman
Jonathan Adkins. "Legislators note these states have
relatively low fatality rates and tend not to see the
benefit in passing stronger laws."

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