Thursday, September 28, 2017

Study: rural drivers more likely to die in car wrecks, less likely to wear seatbelts

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study last week saying that people in rural areas are less likely to wear a seat belt, and more likely to die in car crashes. "The report said that America’s most rural counties had motor-vehicle death rates 'three to 10 times higher than those in the most urban counties.'  It found that 44.4 percent of drivers and passengers were not buckled at the time of a fatal crash in urban counties, compared with 61.3 percent in rural counties," Jason Nark reports for the Philadelphia Inquirer. The rural West had the highest death rates, with 40 per 100,000 caused by car wrecks, while the rural Northeast had the lowest with only 10.8 per 100,000.

Philadelphia Inquirer map; click on the image to enlarge.
Click here to use the interactive version.
Laurie Beck, an epidemiologist in the CDC’s Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention, told Nark that what's most interesting about the study is that it shows that the more rural the area is, the higher the risk of crash-related death. "Seat belt laws have a lot to do with those rates. People buckle up more in 'primary enforcement' states, where a police officer can pull over and ticket drivers and passengers for not wearing one," Nark reports. "In secondary enforcement states, a passenger or driver can be ticketed only if another offense has occurred. A large swath of Western states are secondary enforcement states."

The reasons for the trend are numerous, besides the seat belt issue: In rural areas, inebriated drivers can't call a taxi or an Uber, and may be tempted to drive home. There are fewer traffic lights and stop signs, giving drivers more room to speed. Drivers in rural areas drive older cars on average, which may be more prone to mechanical failure. Deer are more likely to jump out into the road in rural areas. And when a crash does happen, it could take a lot longer for an ambulance to get there and drive the victim to a hospital.

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