Disproportionate number of people dying on rural roads, report finds

Posted at 8:22 AM, Sep 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-14 09:22:30-04

(WTVF) — While less than 20% of people live in rural areas, rural roads account for nearly half of deadly crashes. That's according to a report released this month by the Governors Highway Safety Association, which looked at the years 2016 to 2020.

The report declares that "the risk of dying in a crash was 62% higher on a rural road than an urban road for the same trip length."

In Tennessee, this year's numbers show a similar trend: nearly 400 of the 900 crash deaths so far this year have been on rural roads, which accounts for 43% of total crash deaths.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation says there are several reasons deadly crashes occur at a higher rate in rural areas.

"We've got fewer street lights in rural areas, you may not be as visible, we've got more pedestrian and animal activity, sometimes the infrastructure for road improvements and the quality of roads isn’t there. So we just have more incidents that can happen in those areas," said TDOT spokesperson Rebekah Hammonds.

She also noted that driver behavior plays a big role, with high speeds and a feeling of familiarity on hometown roads that can lull drivers into a false sense of safety.

Fewer emergency services and longer drives for emergency responders is also a factor in whether someone succumbs to their injuries.

TDOT says in Tennessee, fatal crash numbers are slowly improving thanks to federal money that allows a yearly safety audit. The Road Safety Audit program provides $25 to $30 million per year for rural areas, paving the way for improvements like new signs and other infrastructure.

But there are simple things drivers can do.

"As a driver, right, we can buckle up, we can use our brights when it's dark outside, we can slow down. We really encourage drivers to take the time to navigate those curvy rural roads," Hammonds said. "Just slowing down can be one of the best things you can do."

She also recommends drivers remain on the lookout for farm equipment and animals, school buses in the morning and afternoon, children running into the street and roads that don't have a safety shoulder.