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The Most Dangerous Roads in America

Americans Are Heading Back to Work – and Into Even More Danger.

Our interactive map shows the danger of driving to work in 3,000+ U.S. Counties. Is your commute one of the most dangerous? .

Is your commute killing you?

We’re not talking about those extra hours of sitting in the car adding to sedentary lifestyles. Or about the carcinogenic emissions you’re breathing in while you’re stuck in traffic.

A much more immediate danger in your commute – deadly motor vehicle crashes – could cut your life short in the blink of an eye.

The traffic fatality rate at dozens of the most hazardous locations all across America is approaching or above 50 fatalities. In Fresno County, California, crashes at one single location have claimed 155 lives in just 15 years.

You’d be stunned at just how many deadly crashes occur per every 100 hours of commuting time. The safest counties have fewer than 1 death per every 100 hours of commuting time, while the most dangerous counties see hundreds of deaths per every 100 hours of commuting time. In Los Angeles County, California, 327 drivers die for every 100 hours of commuting time. Maricopa County, Arizona, has a fatal crash rate of 250 for every 100 hours of commuting time.

If you have an average-length commute to the office five days a week, you’ll spend more than 100 hours driving to work every six months. What are the odds of being in a fatal car wreck on your way? For many American drivers, a lot higher than you think.

Understanding the Map Data

Our map draws from data on the most dangerous locations per state, the car crash fatality rates per county, and the county-wide average commute length and number of fatalities per 100 hours of commuting time. Here’s how to use the interactive map to understand the risk of your commute.

  • Each skull icon you see on the map designates one of the top 10 most fatal locations in its respective state.
  • Tap or hover over over a skull icon, and you’ll see the name of that location’s county, along with the number of fatal accidents that occurred at that location from 2004 to 2018.
  • Zooming all the way in on the map will show you precisely which intersection or stretch of road was found to be the most deadly.
  • Wondering why some states show more than 10 skull icons? If multiple locations among the top 10 tied in their number of fatalities, we included all of them.
  • Look past the skull icons, and you’ll notice that the map itself is color-coded. The lightest yellow areas see the fewest traffic fatalities per 100 miles of commute time, and the darkest shades of red indicate the highest death rates.
  • Tapping or clicking anywhere on the map gives you that county’s five-year total number of fatalities, average number of fatalities per 100 commuting hours, and average commute length. Average commute times vary considerably from one county to another — with a commute as short as 7.94 minutes in Wheatland County, Montana, but as long as 44.98 minutes in Pike County, Pennsylvania. Nationwide, the average commute length was 23.57 minutes.

Combining these statistics tells us a unique story of where in America drivers are most at risk of not making it through their commute.

A “top 10” intersection in Rockingham County, New Hampshire, for example, was the site of just 8 deaths. In all, 590 traffic fatalities occurred in that county, and the average commute length there was 30 minutes.

Now compare that to the most dangerous intersection in Fresno County, California. The commute here is actually a little shorter, at 23 minutes. But 155 traffic fatalities occurred at this intersection alone, and county-wide, there were 3,543 car crash deaths in the same time-frame. For workers in and around Fresno County, this should be a wakeup call to start taking these risks more seriously and begin driving more defensively.

To better understand the relationship between commuting time and traffic deaths, we:

  • Investigated 15 years’ worth of data on the deadliest intersections in each state in the contiguous U.S.
  • Combed through 15 years’ worth of traffic death rates in each of the 3,000+ counties across America.
  • Compared that information with the five-year average rate of fatalities per 100 hours of commuting time.

Granted, we realize there isn’t a direct one-to-one correspondence between traffic fatalities and commuting time. Not every fatal collision that happens on the roadways occurs during a commute to work. Drivers are on the roads for plenty of other reasons, such as dropping the kids off at school, going to a doctor’s appointment, and doing their grocery shopping.

Still, it’s the most accurate way to distinguish whether the most dangerous intersections are so deadly because more people drive on them for longer, or because they truly are exceptionally dangerous roads.

By putting into context the risk American drivers undertake each day as they make the trek into work, we hope to remind workers how important safe driving is every time they get behind the wheel – and to save lives.

Taking a Deeper Dive Into Car Crash Data

Your Not-So-Friendly Neighborhood Intersection

When you imagine a horrific car accident, it’s a good bet that you’re picturing high-speed collisions on highways or a multi-car pileup on a congested expressway.

A stunning 2,307,000 crashes happen not on these miles of tangled highways, but instead at intersections across the country (1).

In fact, intersection accidents accounted for 40 percent of the 5,811,000 total accidents in a single year (1).

You might think accidents at a traffic signal, stop sign, or otherwise guided intersection would, at least, be more low-key than a highway crash. Drivers aren’t barreling down an open road at 70 mph, so you’d expect the impact to be less brutal. But 7,421 of those collisions at intersections proved deadly (1).

All in all, more than 50 percent of the combined total of fatal and injury crashes happen at or near intersections (2). You may think most crashes at intersections are minor fender benders, but the reality is far grimmer.

How Many Cars in a Crash?

A motor vehicle collision can include any number of unwilling participants. Accidents range from a single-car smashup to a massive pileup that catches literally hundreds of vehicles in a cluster of chaos.

But an auto accident doesn’t need to involve a hundred victims to be devastating. Over 80 percent of fatal crashes that occur at intersections governed by stop signs are two-vehicle collisions (3).

Every Few Hours

At traffic signals, too, deadly two-car wrecks are all too common. The annual rate of deaths due to two-vehicle collisions at traffic signals hovers around 1,578 (3).

That’s almost 5 new deaths daily. In other words, every few hours, one more American loses their life needlessly.

Don’t Blame It on the Storm

Downpours of drenching rain. Sheets of slippery ice that can cause an out-of-control spin. Driving in inclement weather sure feels more dangerous than driving on a clear, sunny day.

But the data has proven otherwise (3). The vast majority – more than 90 percent – of two-vehicle crashes that occur at traffic signals happened in normal weather conditions.

The same goes for two-car crashes at stop signs. And failure-to-obey crashes. And failure-to-yield crashes (3).

With a pattern this consistent across crash types and intersection types, it’s hard to imagine it’s any kind of coincidence. Drivers need to start using in normal weather conditions the same extra caution they use in bad weather. Otherwise, those normal-weather days can become anything but normal.

Taking a Turn for the Worse

Hanging a left? Hold on just a minute!

Data has shown that, in 22 percent of accidents that happen at intersections, a vehicle involved in the collision was turning left (1).

That’s right: an unsafely-executed left-hand turn was a factor in more than one in five accidents that happened at an intersection.

What makes these left-turn collisions so dangerous? The possibilities are more numerous than you might think.

Although left-turning drivers usually have to yield the right-of-way to drivers going straight or turning right, even that’s not true in every instance. Look at it this way – when one car is turning left and a car going straight hits it, who’s at fault?

Are you tempted to say the driver turning left is always to blame? On the surface, it may look that way. It’s likely that the left-turning driver failed to yield to oncoming traffic.

Then again, maybe not. What about intersections with a delayed green light? A driver going straight may jump the gun, stepping on the accelerator before their light turns green and striking the left-turning driver who has been given the green arrow to proceed with the turn.

Young Drivers Struggle With Navigating Intersections…

It’s common to hit a few metaphorical “bumps in the road” when you’re learning to drive. What’s also worryingly common, now, is young drivers hitting other things: cars, guardrails, pedestrians.

Data has shown that maneuvering through intersections may be a challenge for young drivers. Of all of the collisions involving drivers 20 and under, 33 percent were intersection-related crashes (1).

There’s a lot to take in at an intersection: traffic signage, traffic signals, crosswalks (or lack thereof), lanes forming and ending, and of course, the distractions of the businesses, homes, and advertising along either side of the road. Could it be that novice drivers are suffering from information overload?

… And So Do Aging Drivers

If the under-20 crowd struggles to avoid accidents at intersections, the over-65 crowd has an even harder time.

Among drivers 65 and older, 53.9 percent of all crash involvement happened at intersections (1). Perhaps even more disturbing is how accurately this data reflects the larger trend of a rising number of senior citizens being involved in car crashes.

Talking About Driver Error

Young, old, or in between, drivers make mistakes all the time – especially at intersections. The National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey, a focused survey of 787,236 intersection collisions that occurred between 6 a.m. and midnight and distinguished by vehicle type to include light passenger vehicles that sustained enough damage to be towed from the scene, sheds a surprising light on the causes of intersection collisions.

In a whopping 96.1 percent of these intersection crashes, the driver was (in some way) responsible for the “critical reason” that led to the crash (1).

The largest share of critical reasons, accounting for 55.7 percent of intersection accidents, fell into the category of recognition errors (1). Recognition errors include:

  • Driver inattention
  • Internal and external distractions
  • Inadequate surveillance of the driver’s surroundings

Cell phone usage, highway hypnosis, screaming children in the backseat, a misbehaving dog – these factors all contribute to recognition errors by preventing the driver from paying full attention to the roadway and recognizing the risks, other drivers’ intentions, and who has the right of way when.

Nearly 30 percent of collisions at intersections resulted from decision errors (1). Unlike the drivers who made recognition errors, drivers who make decision errors are aware of their surroundings. They’re just not making the best choices, including:

  • Driving too fast
  • Aggressive driving
  • Performing illegal maneuvers
  • Incorrectly assuming what other drivers will do and acting on those assumptions
  • Misjudging the size of the gap between vehicles or the speed of another vehicle

Other driver errors – accounting for 11.2 percent of crashes in which the cause was known – consisted of performance errors and non-performance errors (1).

Performance errors include having poor directional control of the vehicle and overcompensating while making a turn.

A non-performance error is one in which a driver becomes incapacitated and can’t perform the duties of driving safely. A driver who suffers a heart attack behind the wheel is one example. Another example is a driver who falls asleep.

The notion of an unexpected environmental issue – like a sinkhole – or a vehicular malfunction that leaves you sitting helplessly in the middle of the road is a scary one. Fortunately – and surprisingly – environmental and vehicle reasons were named the critical reasons for fewer than 3 percent of intersection-related collisions (1).

Does the type of intersection control matter? On a busy roadway, you would probably prefer to have a traffic light that splits the right of way between drivers periodically than a stop sign that means you have to wait indefinitely for a break to maneuver safely through the intersection.

However, the data shows that a significantly larger proportion of the crashes included in this focused study – 52.5 percent – occurred on roadways where at least one traffic light controlled the intersection (1). Just 31.3 percent of these crashes happened at intersections controlled by stop signs (1).

Understanding when, where, and why collisions happen is the first step to reducing them. Behind every statistic, there are real people who lose their lives or their health and real families who are devastated by an unexpected trauma. As they say, knowledge is power – and the more power we have to reduce crash-related injuries and deaths, the better.

 

References

1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (September 2010)

2. Department of Transportation

3. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (February 2007)