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Odds of a fatal car accident largely depend on where you live

Study finds Washington, D.C., has lowest fatality rate, northern Plains states and the South the highest.

By Douglas Newcomb 1 hour ago
Photo by Flikr user Rian Castillo.
Whether you’ll die in a traffic accident largely depends where you live, according to a recent study from the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute.

While roadway fatalities in the U.S. have dropped 22.7 percent since 2005, UMTRI research professor Michael Sivak found a wide disparity in traffic fatality rates for individual states and the District of Columbia.

Sivak used two sets of data in his analysis: the number of road deaths by distance driven and the number relative to state population. Using these two factors, he looked at statistics for 2005 (the most recent peak) and 2012 (the most recent year for which data was available).

He then cross-referenced these statistics and concluded that if you drive in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., you have the lowest chance of dying in a traffic accident than any other state, while motorists in North Dakota, South Carolina and West Virginia have the highest chance of becoming a road fatality statistic.

West Virginia had the highest fatality rate in the U.S. in 2012 as measured in vehicle miles traveled, while North Dakota claimed that dubious honor when the number of deaths were compared with state population. In 2012, West Virginia’s rate of deaths per billion vehicle miles traveled was 17.63. That’s more than four times the rate in Washington, D.C., with only 4.2 deaths per billion vehicle miles traveled during the same period. The national average was 11.3 fatalities per billion vehicle miles traveled.

Image courtesy of Michael Sivak/University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute

Measured by the number of deaths in relation to state population, drivers in North Dakota were more than 10 times likelier to die in a traffic accident in 2012 than those in the Distric of Columbia. North Dakota had a fatality-per-100,000-population rate of 24.3, while in D.C. it was just 2.37 per 100,000 people. The national average was 10.69 deaths per 100,000.

Image courtesy of Michael Sivak/University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute
While this discrepancy may seem obvious due to the small physical size and population of the nation’s capital, ranking second for both the least number of fatalities by vehicle miles traveled and by population was the densely populated state of Massachusetts. California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey and Washington were all in the top 10 of the safest states using both measurements, while Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia were in the bottom 10. Sivak concluded that the northern Plains states and the South have the overall worst fatality rates.

The study didn’t focus on the reasons for the large gap in the safest and most dangerous states in which to drive, only the raw data. But Sivak noted that factors such as speed limits, topography, alcohol-enforcement policies, age distribution and proportion of urban versus rural areas could all be reasons for the wide differences, while higher speeds on rural roads, reduced visibility and the longer response time of emergency personnel could also be contributing factors.

[Source: University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute]

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