Death rate higher on nation's rural, non-Interstate roads than on other routes

Thursday, March 3rd 2005, 2:07 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ People are being killed on rural, non-Interstate roads at more than double the rate for all other routes, a private group says, blaming narrow roads, sharp curves and a lack of money for safety improvements.

More than half of traffic deaths _ 52 percent _ in the United States between 1999 and 2003 happened on rural, non-Interstate roads and highways, according to a study released Thursday by The Road Information Program. Traffic on these roads accounted for only 28 percent of travel.

In 2003, there were 2.72 deaths per 100 million miles traveled on non-Interstate rural roads compared with .99 deaths per 100 million miles on all other roads.

``Rural drivers are being put at an unacceptable risk because many of these roads lack desirable safety features,'' said Frank Moretti, research and policy director of the private transportation research group.

Narrow lanes, limited shoulders, sharp curves, pavement drop-offs and roadside hazards such as trees and utility poles, are dangerous for drivers.

The majority of rural traffic accidents happen when motorists leave their lane and either strike something off the road, or collide with a car traveling in the opposite direction, the study said.

The study reported an average of 22,127 traffic fatalities each year on rural, non-Interstate roads between 1999 and 2003; in that same period, there was an average of 42,301 people killed each year in traffic accidents on all roads.

From 1990 to 2003, the fatality rate on roads other than non-Interstate rural routes decreased by 32 percent.

Moretti said money for road safety projects is badly needed to make rural roads safer.

Congress is currently working on reauthorizing a new long-term federal surface transportation program, which may increase funding available for safety improvements. The current program expires at the end of May.

The study also found:

_Arizona, Florida, South Carolina, Montana and Kentucky had the highest rates of traffic fatalities per 100 million miles of travel on rural, non-Interstate roads.

_The states with the largest number of rural, non-Interstate traffic deaths between 1999 and 2003 were Texas, California, Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

_Between 1990 and 2002, vehicle travel on rural roads increased by 27 percent and commercial truck travel on rural roads increased by 32 percent.

_About 60 million people live in rural communities, or 21 percent of the nation's population.