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FHWA Home / Safety / Local and Rural Road / Implementing the High Risk Rural Roads Program

Implementing the High Risk Rural Roads Program

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2. National Overview of Rural Roadway Crashes

As shown, rural roadways are a significant portion of the highway system in the United States. Figure 3 shows the percentage of total roadway miles functionally classified as rural for each State. Only eight States have less than 50 percent of their total roadway miles functionally classified as rural. In 27 States, more than 75 percent of the total roadway mileage is on roadways designated as rural. In fact, of the total public rural roadway mileage in the United States, 91 percent falls within the rural major collectors, rural minor collectors, or rural local roads functional classes. Jurisdiction of these roadways is shared among Federal, State and local agencies, and varies from State to State as shown in Appendix C.

In 2007 only 23 percent of the Nation's population lived in rural areas, but 57 percent of fatalities on our Nation's roadways occurred on rural roads. Table 1 shows national rural and urban fatality data for the years 2000 through 2007. As shown, traffic fatalities on rural roadways have historically exceeded those on urban roadways.

Crashes on rural roads tend to be severe as a result of the following:

Map indicates rural miles as a percentage of total roadway miles by State.
Figure 3: Percent Rural Miles of Total Roadway Miles.
Source: FHWA Highway Statistics 2007: Public Road Length 2007 Miles by Ownership
https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2007/hm10.cfm


Table 1: Annual Roadway Fatalities, 2000-2007
Year Rural Fatalities Urban Fatalities Total Fatalities
2000 24,838 16,113 40,951
2001 25,150 16,988 42,138
2002 25,896 17,013 42,909
2003 24,957 17,783 42,740
2004 25,179 17,581 42,760
2005 24,587 18,627 43,214
2006 23,646 18,791 42,437
2007 22,866 17,497 40,363
Source: USDOT, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – "Traffic Safety Facts" Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), 2000-2007

In order to compare fatalities in urban areas to those in rural areas more accurately, it is important to factor in an exposure component. The most common exposure component used is vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on each system. On a per-mile basis, urban roads tend to carry a significantly higher number of vehicles per day than rural roads. Because of this, the levels of exposure on urban roadways are much higher than those on rural roads. As a result, fatality rate (per 100 million miles traveled) is a more appropriate measure to fairly compare these roadway types.

Figure 4 is a graphical representation of rural and urban fatality rates for the years 2000 through 2007. As indicated in the graph, the difference in the rates has remained constant over the 8 year period. Nationwide, rural fatality rates have been more than twice that of urban areas. When rural and urban fatality rates are compared, it is evident that rural roadways have an over-representation of fatalities.

Chart shows urban and rural traffic fatality rates per 100 million vehicle miles traveled during the period 2000-2007.
Figure 4: Rural and Urban Traffic Fatality Rates 2000-2007
Source: NHTSA Traffic Facts 2007 Data, Rural/Urban Comparison – DOT HS 810 996.

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Page last modified on June 17, 2011.
Safe Roads for a Safer Future - Investment in roadway safety saves lives
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000