The 5 U.S. States With the Highest Traffic Death Rates Are All in the South

Car accidents can happen anytime, but they occur more often in certain places. In addition, the United States has seen a recent spike in traffic deaths, making driving riskier than in the past decade. But the five U.S. states with the highest traffic death rates are in the South. 

Traffic fatalities have risen, but the situation is improving

Fatal car crashes and traffic death rates
A multi-car accident in Orange County, Florida in 2015 | Leonard Ortiz/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, traffic fatalities have climbed. One of the leading causes of that increase has been a hike in reckless driving behavior. On top of that, traffic enforcement declined during the pandemic, which might have encouraged more reckless driving. Another big reason why fatalities have risen is the nation’s infrastructure design. 

Unsurprisingly, traffic deaths rose again in the first half of 2022, with about 20,175 people dying in car crashes, according to the NHTSA. That represents a 0.5% increase in fatalities from the first half of 2021. But there is some good news. The second quarter of 2022 saw a decline in deaths. That’s the first quarterly decline since the third quarter of 2020. 

The U.S. government is also spending more money improving car safety features, which might pay off soon. Plus, the authorities have begun enforcing traffic laws more often, so it could reduce deaths. However, not all areas are the same, and drivers in some states are far likelier to be in fatal car crashes than others.

These 5 U.S. states have the highest traffic death rates

According to the NHTSA, data from the first half of 2022 shows that the five states with the highest traffic death rates are in the South. Death rates are different from total deaths. The NHTSA bases the death rate on how many fatalities occurred for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Death rates are a good way to compare more populated states with less populated states because the states with the highest total deaths are also the largest and most populated.

Florida ranks fifth with 1.58 traffic deaths per 100 million VMT.

Louisiana is in fourth place, with a rate of 1.59.

Arkansas comes in third, with 1.63.

Mississippi is second, with 1.64 traffic deaths per 100 million VMT.

And South Carolina tops the list with a traffic death rate of 1.71 in the first half of 2022.

So, why do Southern states have higher traffic death rates? One theory is that the region has more rural roads, which tend to be more dangerous than streets in urban areas. Ruth Shults, a senior epidemiologist at the CDC’s division of unintentional injury, told the Daily Journal in 2015: “Rural roads are just more unforgiving.”

However, according to PersonalInjurySanDiego.org, “Another factor is that there is considerable variation in how likely the population is to embrace life-saving safety measures like wearing a seatbelt.”

These U.S. states have the lowest traffic death rates

In comparison, the U.S. states with the lowest traffic death rates are all in the North or Midwest.

North Dakota ranks fifth in terms of lowest traffic death rates, with 0.89 traffic deaths per 100 million VMT in the first half of 2022.

Similarly, South Dakota is in fourth place, with 0.88 traffic deaths per 100 million VMT.

Massachusetts comes in third place with 0.68.

Minnesota also has a traffic death rate of 0.68. However, Minnesota had fewer fatalities, so it ranks better than Massachusetts.

And the state with the lowest traffic death rate is Rhode Island. It had only 0.38 fatalities per 100 million VMT. Not only that, but Rhode Island also had the fewest traffic deaths, with only 14 people dying in the first half of 2022.  

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