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Photo: Ian Hampton / flickr

The death rate on our country’s roads has declined in recent years. And yet, according to a report from the research group TRIP, North Carolina has the 11th highest rural traffic fatality rate in America. I can believe it. As you might imagine, we see a lot of auto accident cases in my practice. It seems like a disproportionately high number of the death cases and those with life-threatening injuries occur on rural roads.

The report points to possible causes: “The roads and bridges that serve and connect the nation’s rural areas face a number of significant challenges, including inadequate capacity to handle the growing levels of traffic and commerce, limited connectivity, the inability to accommodate growing freight travel, deteriorated road and bridge conditions, a lack of desirable safety features.”

Those factors undoubtedly contribute to the grim toll on rural roads. But there’s more to it than deteriorating infrastructure and increased traffic.

My unscientific conclusion based on the cases I’ve dealt with is that many of the accidents are due to the nature of rural roads themselves. Unlike, interstates, highways and urban streets, country roads are often curvy and typically have only two lanes.

In my experience, the deadliest accidents on rural roads are often single vehicle crashes that occur late in the evening or after midnight when the roads aren’t crowded. These accidents usually involve a fatal mix of one or more of the following:

  • curved roadway
  • poor illumination
  • teen driver
  • alcohol
  • fatigue
  • adverse weather

Of course most these factors can combine on most roadways, but they are particularly deadly on country roads. Rural roads are simply less forgiving. A tired, inexperienced or intoxicated driver has a better chance of avoiding an accident on urban roads that are more likely to be straight and well lit. Moreover frequent traffic signals on city roads keep speed down and help such drivers maintain whatever focus they are able to muster. Dark, narrow country roads however allow drivers to travel at greater speed yet with little room to correct errors in attention, judgment or perception.

To make matters worse, those involved in accidents on rural roads often must wait longer for discovery of the crash. Once the call for help does go out, the victim of a rural crash will typically wait longer for EMTs to arrive and have a longer trip to the hospital – a loss of time that may prove fatal.

For drivers it is tempting to feel that we are safer on lonely country roads. It is important for us to stay vigilant and keep in mind that we must remain alert and aware on rural roads.

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