Urban traffic fatalities now exceed those on rural roads

Sept. 1, 2022
According to research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, more people are now killed on the nation’s city streets than on rural roads, with speed playing a critical factor.

According to research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, more people are now killed on the nation’s city streets than on rural roads, with speed playing a critical factor.

The problem

Between 2010 and 2019, fatalities in urban areas surged 34 percent while those in rural areas fell 10 percent. Urban fatalities surpassed those in rural areas in 2016. By 2019, 19,595 people were killed in urban locations compared to 16,340 in the countryside. The upward trend in urban crash projections will rise as populations and vehicle miles traveled in urban areas increase.

“Many urban streets in metropolitan areas are busier, with a mix of road users such as drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Add in speed, and these locations grow more dangerous. When navigating urban streets, every user needs to be careful, pay attention to road conditions, and follow traffic laws.”

This recent change is notable because, according to Federal Highway Administration statistics, more than 70 percent of the four million miles of public-access roads in the United States are rural. Yet, while speeding occurs on all roads, urban roads and streets account for a disproportionate number of speeding-related fatalities. The AAA Foundation study examines characteristics of deaths that happened on urban non-limited access roadways (not freeways, expressways, or interstates) from 2010 to 2019. Details of the Foundation research can be found here, but key highlights include:

Why it's important

According to new NHTSA estimates, 9,560 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in the first quarter of 2022, a seven-percent increase compared to last year. It is the highest number of first-quarter fatalities since 2002. NHTSA says 42,915 people died in traffic crashes last year, with speed-related crash fatalities rising by five percent. This research provides insights needed to inform the development of solutions to address the persistent speeding problem. It is important to understand the characteristics of both the roadways, the motorists and the crashes.

AAA urges transportation engineers and decision-makers to consider speed management and prioritize safety when setting speed limits. This is critical for urban roads and streets where vehicles and vulnerable road users mix. AAA strongly supports adopting The Safe System Approach (SSA) to roadway safety. The SSA uses current effective countermeasures to create multiple layers of protection for transportation network users rather than responding only after evidence of a specific safety problem.

Methodology

The Foundation used data from the NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), a national census of fatal traffic crashes. Fatalities were considered speeding-related if any vehicle involved in the crash was reported to have exceeded the posted speed limit, drove too fast for conditions, or was racing.

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