Rural areas are commonly perceived as the idyllic countryside; places where one can avoid the bustle and danger of big city life. Though there may be some truth to that in certain respects, when it comes to driving, statistically it’s actually safer to drive in the city.
In Arizona, an interesting pattern emerges. Of course, more total car crashes happen in cities: according to 2013 data from the Arizona Department of Transportation, they account for 81.12% of all crashes, as opposed to just 18.88% happening in rural areas. That’s no surprise, as far more people simply live in cities than in rural areas. However, as Mushkatel, Robbins & Becker, PLLC note, crashes cause more incapacitating injuries and fatalities (as percentages of the total) in rural areas than in urban areas. 1.76% of rural crashes result in death in rural crashes, as compared to .48% in urban crashes. That means the fatality rate for rural car accidents is approaching four times that of the urban rate!
The Surprising Danger of Rural Driving:
Moreover, while the rate of injury-causing accidents is quite similar between rural and urban areas, the injuries are likely to be more serious in rural areas: 12.45% of injuries sustained in rural crashes are incapacitating, while only 7.66% of injuries sustained in urban ones are. Nationally, we can see a similar pattern. Car crashes kill 27.61 deaths per 100,000 people out in the country, compared to 10.58 deaths in cities.
Why Rural Areas Are Risky for Drivers:
It’s challenging to pinpoint precisely why this is the case, but differences between rural and urban lifestyles may partly explain the phenomenon. City-dwellers do not have as much need for their cars: instead, they often walk or use public transportation. But while only 19% of the American population lives in rural areas, they account for 40% of vehicle-miles traveled, and rural drivers often drive for many more hours at a time. These drivers therefore have more opportunity to get into an accident. Plus, in rural areas, there’s just the wide open road—it’s easy to go very fast. So, if a collision does occur, the high speeds mean that injuries are more likely.
If you get into a serious accident in the middle of nowhere, you could be hundreds of miles from the medical attention you need. In contrast, when city people do hit the road, traffic and low speed limits usually force them to drive slowly. If an accident does occur in a city, it generally takes less time to get any victims to the hospital, thus reducing the chance of death.
Many city roads also have more safety-engineering features, such as medians and good street lighting—these make it harder to swerve off the road and hit an obstacle. Sadly, rural areas also have a higher rate of drunk driving, and the results show: in 2010, 55% of drunk driving fatalities happened in rural areas.
Though rural living certainly has its perks, it seems fair to say that driving safety just isn’t one of them.