Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 21, 2013

Rural driving requires diligence

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — KALKASKA — A two-car collision at a rural Kalkaska County intersection claimed three lives on April 29.

A three-car crash at another rural intersection in the same county killed two more on July 7.

And, a 15-year-old girl died July 5 when her vehicle left the road in yet another accident in Kalkaska County.

Six lives lost in three separate crashes in less than three months, all in the same county.

Each accident had different causes and varying circumstances, but collectively, they affirm a fact well-known to law enforcement but one often lost on the public: driving on country roadways is dangerous.

“There is a discrepancy, or difference, in the fatality rate on rural roads versus urban roads,” said Frank Douma, a research fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. “That’s counter-intuitive. Most people think urban roads are more dangerous compared to the bucolic road, or the road less-traveled. It seems like you are in control (in the country.)”

Statistics show drivers are far more likely to perish on rural roadways despite less traffic and far fewer miles traveled than urban streets. The numbers are even more profound considering the majority of the population base in America lives in cities versus the countryside. Consider:

- In 2010, there were 30,196 fatal crashes in the United States, resulting in 32,885 fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Rural areas accounted for 54 percent (16,292) of the fatal crashes, and 55 percent (18,026) of the fatalities as compared to urban areas, which accounted for 45 percent (13,608) of the fatal crashes and 44 percent (14,546) of the fatalities.

- Nineteen percent of the

U.S. population lived in rural areas; however, rural fatalities accounted for 55 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2010.

- Teens are particularly vulnerable to fatal crashes in rural areas, according to the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety at the University of Minnesota.

- Most who drive regularly in rural areas presume winter is the most dangerous time to drive, but that’s incorrect. Instead, summer months are deadlier, said Duoma, who said speeds increase and attention to road conditions drops in the summer.

Kalkaska Undersheriff Abe DeVol agrees that rural roads are more dangerous. He believes the inundation of cell phones into society in recent years has worsened the situation. Rural roadways also offer head-on traffic, limited shoulders and stop signs that can seem to come up out of nowhere for drivers who are navigating unfamiliar territory.

Antrim County Sheriff Dan Bean said driving in the country requires more diligence and caution by motorists -- not less.

“People think they can drive a little faster because there are less patrols on those back roads,” Bean said. “Slow down and drive to what the road conditions permit you to drive. Just because you are out in the country doesn’t mean you can drive faster.”