Rural Roads See Nearly Half of Fatal Crashes, Report Finds

By: - September 13, 2022 12:00 am

A Mississippi Highway Patrol state trooper investigates a wreck on U.S. Highway 45 south of Scooba in Kemper County, Mississippi, Wednesday, June 5, 2019. Three people were killed and several others were injured in the wreck. (Bill Graham / The Meridian Star, via AP) Bill Graham/The Meridian Star via The Associated Press

Nearly half of fatal crashes in the United States occur on rural roads, even though only 19% of the population lives on them, according to a recent report by the Governors Highway Safety Association.

The group, which represents state highway safety offices, found that between 2016 and 2020, 85,002 people died in crashes on rural roads.

Deaths on rural roads increased even more in 2021, according to preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The governors safety group found that speeding was a major factor in rural crashes, as were alcohol and drug use. Driver distraction also was a significant problem, the report found.

“Roads are the backbone of rural America, connecting far-flung communities and families,” the group’s executive director, Jonathan Adkins, said in a news release. “Unfortunately, the dangerous and deadly driving behaviors that have increased during the pandemic have taken an oversized toll on rural residents.”

Transportation experts say a combination of higher speeds, narrow shoulders, lack of lighting and lots of curves contribute to the problem of rural road crash fatalities. So does the fact that emergency responders might be some distance away and can take longer to arrive at the scene and transport injured drivers and passengers to hospitals.

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Jenni Bergal

Jenni Bergal covers transportation, infrastructure and cybersecurity for Stateline. She has been a reporter at Kaiser and the Center for Public Integrity.