The American South & Northern Plains Are Deadly For Drivers. D.C.? Not So Much

July 16, 2014

Today, U.S. traffic fatality rates hover near historic lows -- in fact, the number of deaths has fallen 23 percent over the past nine years alone. In 2012 (the most recent annual stats available), 33,561 people were killed on U.S. roads, and while that number is still high, it's worth noting that America hasn't seen a figure that low since 1953.

That said, the situation has improved at different rates in different parts of the country. According to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, drivers, passengers, and pedestrians are least likely to die in a collision in our nation's capital and more likely to die in the Northern Plains and in the South.  

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UMTRI's Michael Sivak says that the District of Columbia has the lowest fatality rate in the country, at 4.2 deaths per billion miles traveled. (Which is slightly surprising, given D.C.'s reputation for terrible drivers.) Massachusetts comes in second with 6.2 fatalities, and Minnesota takes the bronze at 6.9.

D.C. and Massachusetts also fare well when we match fatalities with population size. The District has 2.4 deaths per 100,000 people, and Massachusetts has 5.3. The state of New York is third at 6.0.

Part of the reason that D.C. dominates the list is because it's seen a steep drop in roadway deaths. Between 2005 and 2012, traffic fatalities in the capital plummeted a staggering 68 percent. On the other side of the country, Nevada and Idaho also saw strong declines of 48 percent and 39 percent, respectively.

That's the good news. 

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The bad news is that many states have plenty of room to grow. West Virginia and South Carolina have the most fatalities per billion miles traveled, at 17.6 each, while Montana comes in close behind at 17.3. Montana also fares poorly when it comes to deaths per 100,000, at 20.4 -- though it's not quite as deadly as Wyoming (21.3) or North Dakota (24.3).

It's probably no surprise that North Dakota has so many roadway deaths just now: between 2005 and 2012, it's one of only three states to have seen an increase in fatalities, up four percent. The others were Maine (which was up two percent) and Vermont (which jumped 13 percent). 

Wherever you're traveling this summer -- in D.C, the Dakotas, or points in-between -- please buckle up, put down the cell phone, and drive safely. And take lots of photos so you can remember all the fun you had when it's November and you're up to your eyeballs in expense reports.


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