Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Rural roads--safer than we thought?

According to conventional wisdom, rural roads are more dangerous than urban and suburban thoroughfares. The very term might bring to mind two undivided lanes of blacktop, miles removed from emergency services and dotted with white crosses and impromptu memorials.

Over at NPR, an interesting piece examines how different definitions of "rural" may have contributed to a misunderstanding of how dangerous rural roads actually are. Specifically, under the broad catch-all definition of rural utilized by the Census Bureau (that has also been adopted by the National Highway Transportation Administration for determining accident rates), over 60% of fatal accidents occur in rural areas.

But as the NPR piece notes, "
the portion of fatalities on rural roads drops to just 27%, according to Cromartie's [a USDA analyst] analysis, if only small towns (of less than 2,500) and the low-density countryside are included in the calculation. Throw together the cities, suburbs and exurbs (outer suburbs) and the urban share of fatalities rises to 70%."

According to the NPR piece, this rethinking of the urban/rural distinction with respect to highway safety seems to be taking hold. A new NHTA study revealed that, "a whopping 86% of traffic deaths occur in cities and in the first 10 miles of rural highway adjacent to cities. Just five miles outside of town the number is 73%."

The NPR piece reminded me of another set of stories the Sacramento Bee recently put out in the wake of a terrible accident just north of Folsom.

Drive safely everyone.

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