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Rural Traffic Deaths: An Untold Tragedy

July 01, 2007 By John Fitzgerald
What you may know: More people die on Minnesota roads during holidays than during the rest of the year. What you may not know: Significantly more people die on rural roads than highways.

According to Minnesota Department of Transportation's 2005 statistics, 53 percent of road fatalities occurred on county roads, 33 percent occurred in urban areas or on interstates and 14 percent occurred on other roads. Amazingly, 72 percent of fatal accidents occurred on rural roads with 28 percent occurring in urban areas.

Here's how holiday fatalities broke down in 2006: Memorial Day, three fatalities, 287 injuries; July 4, five fatalities, 377 injuries; Labor Day, one fatality, 272 injuries; Thanksgiving, eight fatalities, 299 injuries; Christmas, no fatalities, 214 injuries; New Years 2006-07, eight fatalities, 451 injuries.

The state Department of Public Safety, Office of Traffic Safety, reports that the state had nearly five million registered motor vehicles with 3.9 million licensed drivers driving 57 billion miles.

Minnesota experienced 78,745 traffic crashes resulting in 494 deaths and 35,025 injuries. One third involved only one vehicle, one third of the fatalities involved drivers less than 25 years of age, two of three fatalities occurred in rural areas and 7,590 crashes were hit-and-run accidents. Drivers between 15 and 24 years old made up 16 percent of licensed drivers but account for 28 percent of accidents. More than 70 percent of drivers in fatal crashes were male.

Unsafe speed was the most cited cause of fatalities, chemical impairment is the second most cited factor for fatalities - the first among drivers between 20 and 29. Other factors include following too closely and illegal or unsafe speed. Thirty five percent of fatalities occurred between 5 and 6 p.m. and 28 percent between 7 and 8 a.m.

While all crash and fatality data is sobering, the rural accidents figure is disturbing. It appears to be starkly at odds with population density expectations. In other words, the most people living most closely together should have more accidents than the people living further apart. Yet, as MNDOT traffic data reveals, that's not the case.

In the coming months, Minnesota 2020 Fellow Conrad deFiebre will be researching and writing on this and other transportation policy issues. We invite you to stay tuned.


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