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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 Jul 28, 2014 1:54PM
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]

Jul 28, 2014 4:01PM
N.E. states are low because there's so much traffic, you can only go 25 MPH.
Jul 28, 2014 4:56PM
The amount of traffic plays a major role.  As one other poster noted, it's hard to drive too fast when roads are bumper to bumper traffic jams.  Driving in North Dakota or Wyoming or Montana offers wide and empty freeways and highways with a limited amount of traffic enforcement.  It's pretty easy to take it up to ninety without much fear of being ticketed.  Unfortunately, at that speed, if you do have an accident, the results are not likely to be good.  Then you throw in the slower response time and more people will die.  This one isn't about politics.  It's about geography.
Jul 28, 2014 5:09PM

Famous last words from West Virginia......"hold my beer and watch this!" Hey, I can say that, I live here.

Jul 28, 2014 5:29PM
I just returned from an extended weekend to South Dakota to visit friends... my first trip there, I'm from Seattle, Wash. They have a problem in the Dakotas... not drinking and driving, drinking WHILE driving... opened my eyes and scared the piss out of me on those rural roads.
Jul 28, 2014 4:29PM
Driving while Distracted is not even a topic in this less than informative study. i.e. mobile device use while driving, also eating and grooming while driving will be contributing factors. When are people going to wake up and smell the coffee.
Jul 28, 2014 6:57PM
HERE in oklahoma most people are not smart enough to drive safely
Jul 28, 2014 8:33PM
I'm typing this comment in while I drive to prove that it is safe to text and Bang-CRASH!!!---Crunch <<POW>> CRASH KERPLOW!!!
Jul 28, 2014 4:58PM
I drove trucks for 28 years. My last employer was from Tenn.   They would get 2 inches of snow and 30 degrees and shut down.     In  Northern  Ohio we call that a snow flake.    We would get 10 inches and Zero degrees and still run.   
Jul 28, 2014 5:09PM
Would like to see how these stats change when single car accidents versus multiple car accidents.  Bet DC has alot of red light accidents versus say ND....then all of a sudden worst states change quickly....Nader was very good at making stats support his view points.....
Jul 30, 2014 9:00AM
Of course California is low.  Smoking pot leaves you driving slooooowwwwwwww!
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