Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new research study confirming it’s not the dangerous urban expressways or the crowded, stressful city streets that are the most dangerous for drivers. It’s the rural routes.
According to the CDC, you are TEN TIMES more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident when driving on rural routes in this country as compared to urban areas.
Of course, not all country roads are the same. Depending on the part of the country being considered, the risk factor isn’t always Ten Times Higher – but it’s always more dangerous to drive on rural roads in the United States. The risk factor goes down to Three Times Higher in some regions. That’s still a much greater risk, of course. The lowest risk factor of 300% more likely to perish in a fatal car crash on a rural road is very disturbing.
For details, read the findings in the latest CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Rural Health Series.
CDC Analysis on Rural Road Crash Dangers: Why Are They So Dangerous?
Researchers report there is one primary reason for the higher risk of dying in an auto accident on a rural road as compared to a city street or urban highway: the use of safety belts by passengers and drivers.
1. Fatality Victims Less Likely to Be Wearing Their Seat Beat
The CDC explains that people are less likely to buckle up when they are in a vehicle that is traveling in a rural location. It’s a big difference.
Most drivers – and passengers – will not wear their safety belts when in a vehicle moving along a rural route. Findings show that it’s a big majority here: 61.3% of the traffic on rural routes who died in an auto accident had declined to buckle up. (Compare this to urban driving, where 44.4% of the victims who perish in a fatal car crash are not wearing their seat belts.)
From CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D.:
“We know seat belts save lives. These findings remind us that no matter what kind of road you are traveling on, it is important for everyone to buckle up every time on every trip.”
2. Remote Rural Locations Are the Most Dangerous for a Fatal Car Crash
Another factor for these fatal motor vehicle accidents are the location of the crash site. The more remote the roadway, the more dangerous it is for a fatal crash.
The more remote and rural the roadway, the greater the risk of a fatality for drivers and passengers. For the Midwest, this means that driving in a rural area had a death rate of 25.8% compared to driving in an urban area, where the risk factor of death in a traffic accident was significantly less (5.3%).
Primary Enforcement States: Indiana and Illinois
Not all states enforce seat belts laws the same way. One state (New Hampshire) doesn’t even have a law requiring drivers or passengers to wear safety belts in a moving vehicle.
Indiana and Illinois: Primary Enforcement
In both Indiana and Illinois, laws have been passed that allow police to pull over a car, truck, or minivan (as well as any other vehicle on the road) to check for safety belt law compliance. Compare this to our neighboring states of Ohio and Missouri, where the police cannot stop a vehicle for suspicion of not wearing a safety belt. Law enforcement in these states can ticket someone for violation of their safety belt laws only if the traffic stop is for another cause (like speeding, or running a stop sign).
Illinois law mandates that all drivers and passengers (in both the front and back seats) wear a safety belt. Special laws have been passed for infants and children under the age of 16 years who are riding in the vehicle.
Indiana statutes require that anyone riding in the vehicle over the age of 16 years must use a safety belt while the motor vehicle is being driven within the State of Indiana. There are special laws in place to protect children (those under 16 years) as passengers in the vehicle.
Safety Belts on Buses
For many years, safety advocates have argued that seat belts need to be provided to those passengers riding in school buses and Motorcoaches. See, e.g., our 2013 discussion in “New Federal Rule Puts Seat Belts on Buses and Motorcoaches: Lap and Shoulder Safety Belts For Bus Driver and For Bus Passengers.”
As time passes, we will likely see safety belts on buses of all types. Last month, for instance, Indiana’s Bartholomew School Corporation was recognized for adding lap-shoulder safety belts on its school district buses.
Safety Belt Defense
How can the failure to wear safety belts impact justice for those killed in a motor vehicle accident on a rural road?
In a personal injury claim or wrongful death lawsuit, the fact that a victim was not wearing a safety belt at the time of the crash may impact upon the damage award available to those who have been hurt or killed in the crash. The at-fault driver may point the finger at the victim for not wearing his or her seat belt at the time of impact.
How this works will depend upon the state court hearing the case as well as the state laws that apply to the accident. In several states, there is an argument that can be legally used by the negligent driver who caused the crash, called the “safety belt defense.” Here, the amount awarded is reduced because the victim is shown to have failed to wear a seat belt.
Rural roads do seem safer because there is less traffic and fewer intersections. It’s tempting to feel freer in the countryside, going faster and not wearing safety belts. However, research shows that rural routes are dangerous and deadly. Let’s be careful out there!