Rural Traffic Fatalities Almost Double Urban Road Deaths
Oklahoma is a state of scenic wilderness and charming communities, but driving on the rural highways that tie Oklahoma City, Norman, Tulsa, and other towns together can be treacherous. Car accidents in rural areas of Oklahoma claimed 491 lives in 2011, accounting for 71% of all auto accident deaths in the state for the year.
The data indicate that Oklahoma safety officials have failed to significantly reduce rural traffic deaths in recent years. In 2007, 533 people died in rural Oklahoma auto wrecks, or 71% of Oklahoma road deaths during the year.
Although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched a campaign in the mid 2000s to encourage rural travelers to buckle up and drive defensively, road deaths in remote areas continue to outpace traffic fatalities in metro areas.
Dangers on Rural Roads
Risk factors for rural crashes include:
Rural drivers often travel more miles than city dwellers.
- Seatbelt use and safe driving tactics are less common on rural roads.
- Rural roads can be less safe than urban roads. Hairpin curves, lack of safety infrastructure (such as guardrails), and uneven pavement are all common hazards in America’s rural heartland.
- Some data suggest that intoxicated driving claims more lives in rural communities than in cities and large towns.
- In rural areas, emergency medical services are sometimes unable to reach the scene of an auto wreck in time to save lives.
- Vehicles in rural areas may be less safe than cars registered in cities.
- Rural car crashes may be more severe because of differing speed limits and less strict enforcement of traffic laws.
For years, rural car crash deaths have outpaced urban wreck fatalities despite overall reductions in road deaths in the U.S. in the past decade. Researchers have been looking into the disparity between rural and urban auto wreck deaths. Only 15% of Americans live in rural areas, which makes the high rate of rural auto crashes even more startling.
In 2005, a study of national databases revealed that rural auto accidents were nearly twice as common as car crashes in cities and towns. Even more troubling, the fatality rate for traffic wrecks in the countryside was three times higher than for metro-area auto accidents.
Rural traffic collisions are particularly dangerous for the elderly and young people. In a 2009 Johns Hopkins University study of elderly drivers, rural seniors were almost twice as likely to blow stop signs, compared with retirement-aged drivers in metropolitan areas. In the same year, rural crash fatalities accounted for well over half of the teen driving deaths in the nation.
Teenage and senior citizen drivers are of paramount concern for traffic safety officials because of high injury and death rates in auto collisions involving young and old drivers. A big part of solving the problem must include effective crash mitigation and reduction on rural roads.
Ways to avoid traffic wrecks on rural roads include:
- Be aware that signage, GPS, and road maps may not be correct in rural areas. Take time to plan trips to avoid getting lost or distracted by navigation.
- Be especially careful on blind curves, narrow lanes that cannot accommodate more than one vehicle, and uneven road surfaces.
- Keep a sharp eye on the road for obstacles and debris. Distracted driving claims lives, and unexpected road hazards are a daily reality on Oklahoma rural roads.
- Take extreme care when passing other vehicles.
- Exercise caution on hills. Excessive speed and loss of vehicle control are very real possibilities when coasting downhill. Also, uphill traffic may move slowly.
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