America’s roadways may not be the most dangerous in the world, but until we completely bend the knee to our self-driving autonomous overlords, traffic deaths will continue to be a genuine threat when taking to our great highways. According to recent reports by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “motor vehicle crashes claimed 32,675 lives in the U.S. in 2014,” which breaks down to being around one human life lost every 16 minutes. While drunk driving remains one of the deadliest threats, traffic deaths per capita have been on a strong decline since 1975, though that may soon reverse with cheap gas prices and a renewed interest in road trips sending highway fatalities skyward once more.
In order to help us better understand what is going on, insurance news and information hub Auto Insurance Center looked at loads of data from the NHTSA’s “Fatality Analysis Reporting System” (FARS), and came up with some startling conclusions. Everything from what kinds of victims are at the highest risk and when is the worst time to travel, to what makes the most crash-prone states and hellacious highways were put under the microscope. Here’s what came out in the wash.
Going off of five years of government crash reports, the deadliest dates include a few of the usual suspects like the 4th of July, New Year’s Day (right after midnight, when everyone’s driving home drunk), along with Labor Day weekend. All of these holidays have seen an average of more than 100 traffic deaths annually, and for whatever reason there are two days in August (the 2nd and the 27th) that consistently are almost as lethal every year.
Heavy holiday traffic and all of the drunk driving associated with it aside, the deadliest times to hit the open road are all evening commute related, with the 5 to 6 p.m. rush in August being the biggest threat even though Saturday remains the most dangerous day of the week to get in a car. While the safest times to rock the roadway are during early morning hours, before most people are up and about, Friday and Sunday follow Saturday for most crashes, undoubtedly due to weekend partying. Naturally, summer road trips mean more drivers, many of them traveling long distances, with little sleep and numerous distractions, all accompanied by a swarm of inexperienced teen drivers who are out of school all summer long.
But it isn’t always about boozin’ and cruisin’. Some roads are just flat-out accident prone no matter what you do, with America’s most threatening highways being Interstate 10, Interstate 95, and Interstate 40, all of which are lengthy and offer ample opportunity for error. Take I-10 for instance, the country’s fourth-longest highway, which stretches over 2,460 miles through eight states from California to Florida. Outside of being a beast of a road that gets covered daily with a swarm of bad drivers, I-10 doesn’t have a lot of center barriers along it, so hopping the median and plowing into oncoming traffic is a real threat anywhere along its length.
While the second-most-dangerous highway is I-95, which winds down from Maine to Florida, and the third-longest, I-40, comes in third for deadliest drives, there is on odd piece of trivia that could be read as good news. I-90 doesn’t even crack the top 10 deadliest list, which is surprising, considering that it currently is the longest stretch of highway in America.
Wyoming, Mississippi, and Montana all take top spots for having the most traffic deaths per capita, none of which are densely populated. Take Wyoming for instance: The fatality rate of 25.7 per 100,000 people is more than seven times higher than that of the least dangerous area, which just so happens to be our nation’s capital.
Since Wyoming is rural, with the lowest population density in the country, emergency response times can be limited. This is also one of those states where people like to get fired up on their favorite poison and hit the highway, shortly followed by Mississippi, Montana, and New Mexico in regard to fatalities. On the flip side, outside of Washington, D.C., Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York have strikingly low traffic fatality rates, even though they tend to be far more densely populated and are prone to heavy snow storms.
While it’s pretty obvious that with 11,227 recorded fatalities, cars colliding with one another remains a major threat, it’s fatalities from striking stationary objects that cost the most lives. Researchers reported that of all the traffic deaths examined, “17,799 involved a vehicle hitting something other than a moving vehicle.” Out of these collisions, top offenders included 4,150 incidents involving a pedestrian, 2,189 with a tree, and 1,045 instances where something like a barrier or a curb was involved.
Surprisingly, collisions with animals were way at the bottom of the list, with only 140 recorded fatalities, as Texas and Wisconsin held the record for the deadliest collisions with critters over the course of the past decade. Not surprisingly, the most common animal struck was a deer, with the riskiest times for collisions with Bambi being sometime in the spring or fall, when these large animals tend to migrate.
Shockingly, New Hampshire had the deadliest rate of unbuckled accident victims, followed by Montana and South Dakota. Perhaps unbeknownst to many, New Hampshire is the only state in our great nation that does not require seat belt use, and that is reflected by a 45% jump in unbuckled national deaths. A few familiar offenders followed this unrestrained New England oddity, with Montana and South Dakota tying for second place, followed by North Dakota, Mississippi, and Alabama.
It makes sense that when a collision occurs, 63.4% of all victims are drivers, based purely on the fact that there will always be someone in the driver’s seat. On the other hand, passengers only comprise 18% of all fatalities, while pedestrians tend to be slain seven times as often as bicyclists. The smallest number of people killed in vehicular related accidents came in at just 0.6%, and included people in buildings, occupants of parked vehicles, people aboard trains or buses, and people on “personal conveyances.”
So based on what we learned today, here are 10 ways we think you can significantly boost your chances of not dying while behind the wheel:
- Buckle up (45% of fatalities);
- Don’t get shit-faced and drive (31% of fatalities);
- Speed kills (28% of fatalities);
- Avoid rush hour, weekends, and peak summer months;
- Avoid traveling around Independence Day, New Year’s Day, and Labor Day;
- Try not to drive in Wyoming.
- Avoid I-10, I-95, and I-40 like the plague;
- Try to drive in the early morning hours (just watch out for deer in Texas and Wisconsin);
- Move to a safe zone, like Washington D.C, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, or New York;
- Don’t drive if public transportation is available.