The next time your drivers have to travel down rural roads, you might want to encourage them to take extra precaution. That’s because in both the United States and the United Kingdom, most fatal crashes take place on rural roads—not on more congested urban roads as one might expect.
According to 2015 figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the most recent figures available, just 19 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas that year, yet rural fatalities accounted for 49 percent of all traffic fatalities. Urban roads accounted for 44 percent of fatalities. In the United Kingdom, according to a report from U.K. road safety charity Brake, 59 percent of fatal crashes occur on country roads.
We sought to pinpoint the reasons for this somewhat surprising phenomenon, turning to Lytx VP of Safety Services Del Lisk for help in deducing why rural roads see more fatalities than their urban counterparts.
Higher speeds contribute to the problem
The risk of fatalities on rural roads likely is a blend of many contributing factors instead of a single, dominant cause, Lisk said. For one thing, vehicles on rural roads tend to travel at higher speeds than vehicles on urban roads do. Rural roads have less congestion and fewer traffic controls than urban roads, allowing drivers to travel at higher speeds.
“Higher speeds equate to higher force at impact, leading to fatalities,” Lisk explained. “Traveling on rural roads also increases the chance of rollovers, often the result of high speeds. Rollovers generally have high severity and are more likely to result in a fatality than several other types of collisions,” he continued.
Lower seatbelt use and other risks
Adding to the danger on rural roads is their lack of divided traffic streams, making head-on collisions more likely, Lisk said. Rural roads also are less likely to have guard rails, increasing the risk of a vehicle colliding at high speeds with stationary objects or other vehicles.
Travelers on rural roads also are less likely to wear seatbelts, Lisk said, so fatalities involving failure to wear a seatbelt are higher in rural areas than urban areas.
And there are other risks. Rural roads often are narrower than urban roads, leaving less room for correcting a driving error—especially on roads that are lined by trees and ditches. Many fatal crashes occur when drivers attempt to pass slow-moving vehicles and cross into oncoming traffic. Add to that more encounters with wildlife on rural roads and the longer time it takes for emergency vehicles to arrive in rural areas, and it all creates a dangerous picture, Lisk said.
“To enhance safety on rural roads, it’s best to be aware of the risks, watch your speed, wear your seatbelt, and practice defensive driving,” he said. Prevention is key. While urban roads may result in more frequent, lower-cost collisions and rural roads in more catastrophic events, focusing on prevention is what will help fleets avoid both.
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