Urban/rural comparison | 2012

Urban and rural areas have fundamentally different characteristics with regard to density of road networks, land use, and travel patterns. Consequently, the characteristics of fatal motor vehicle crashes differ between rural and urban areas. For example, pedestrian and bicyclist deaths and deaths at intersections are more prevalent in urban areas, whereas a larger proportion of passenger vehicle and large truck occupant deaths and deaths on high-speed roads occur in rural areas. Although 19 percent of people in the U.S. live in rural areas U.S. Census Bureau. 2012. 2010 Census urban and rural classification and urban area criteria. Available at: http://www.census.gov/geo/reference/ua/urban-rural-2010.html. Accessed December 11, 2013. and 33 percent of the vehicle miles traveled occur in rural areas Federal Highway Administration. 2013. Highway statistics, 2011. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation. , more than half of crash deaths occur there.  

The following facts are based on analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). In FARS, rural and urban boundaries are determined by state highway departments and approved by the Federal Highway Administration. Reliable information on rural and urban areas has been available in FARS since 1977.

Trends

A total of 33,561 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2012. The proportion of crash deaths in rural areas reached an all-time low of 54 percent in 2012.  Since 1999, there has been a general downward trend in the proportion of crash deaths in rural areas, with the proportion declining from 61 percent in 1999 to 54 percent in 2012.

Motor vehicle crash deaths by land use, 1977-2012
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%
1977 28,463 59 19,296 40 47,878 100
1978 30,018 60 19,863 39 50,331 100
1979 29,135 57 21,507 42 51,093 100
1980 29,114 57 21,560 42 51,091 100
1981 27,692 56 20,782 42 49,301 100
1982 25,005 57 18,678 43 43,945 100
1983 24,486 57 18,027 42 42,589 100
1984 25,636 58 18,590 42 44,257 100
1985 25,185 57 18,613 42 43,825 100
1986 26,484 57 19,581 42 46,087 100
1987 27,131 58 19,217 41 46,390 100
1988 27,793 59 19,253 41 47,087 100
1989 26,392 58 19,160 42 45,582 100
1990 25,761 58 18,807 42 44,599 100
1991 24,328 59 17,126 41 41,508 100
1992 22,821 58 16,223 41 39,250 100
1993 23,459 58 16,429 41 40,150 100
1994 23,841 59 16,811 41 40,716 100
1995 24,449 58 17,163 41 41,817 100
1996 24,561 58 17,368 41 42,065 100
1997 25,135 60 16,829 40 42,013 100
1998 25,185 61 16,219 39 41,501 100
1999 25,547 61 16,059 38 41,717 100
2000 24,835 59 16,116 38 41,945 100
2001 25,148 60 16,990 40 42,196 100
2002 25,896 60 17,013 40 43,005 100
2003 24,957 58 17,783 41 42,884 100
2004 25,179 59 17,581 41 42,836 100
2005 24,587 57 18,627 43 43,510 100
2006 23,646 55 18,791 44 42,708 100
2007 23,254 56 17,908 43 41,259 100
2008 20,987 56 16,218 43 37,423 100
2009 19,323 57 14,501 43 33,883 100
2010 18,089 55 14,659 44 32,999 100
2011 17,769 55 14,575 45 32,479 100
2012 18,170 54 15,296 46 33,561 100

In 2012, the rate of motor vehicle crash deaths per 100 million miles traveled was about 2.4 times higher in rural areas than in urban areas (1.86 in rural areas compared with 0.77 in urban areas). From 1977 to 2012, the rate decreased by 57 percent in rural areas (from 4.35 to 1.86) and 67 percent in urban areas (from 2.35 to 0.77).

Motor vehicle crash deaths per 100 million miles traveled by land use, 1977-2012
Rural Urban Total*
DeathsMiles traveled (millions)RateDeathsMiles traveled (millions)RateDeathsMiles traveled (millions)Rate
1977 28,463 654,596 4.35 19,296 821,971 2.35 47,878 1,476,567 3.24
1978 30,018 689,953 4.35 19,863 858,260 2.31 50,331 1,548,213 3.25
1979 29,135 670,079 4.35 21,507 859,054 2.50 51,093 1,529,133 3.34
1980 29,114 672,030 4.33 21,560 855,265 2.52 51,091 1,527,295 3.35
1981 27,692 688,308 4.02 20,782 867,000 2.40 49,301 1,555,308 3.17
1982 25,005 689,226 3.63 18,678 905,784 2.06 43,945 1,595,010 2.76
1983 24,486 700,517 3.50 18,027 952,271 1.89 42,589 1,652,788 2.58
1984 25,636 718,132 3.57 18,590 1,002,137 1.86 44,257 1,720,269 2.57
1985 25,185 730,728 3.45 18,613 1,044,098 1.78 43,825 1,774,826 2.47
1986 26,484 747,780 3.54 19,581 1,087,092 1.80 46,087 1,834,872 2.51
1987 27,131 780,450 3.48 19,217 1,140,754 1.68 46,390 1,921,204 2.41
1988 27,793 817,534 3.40 19,253 1,208,428 1.59 47,087 2,025,962 2.32
1989 26,392 847,225 3.12 19,160 1,249,262 1.53 45,582 2,096,487 2.17
1990 25,761 868,878 2.96 18,807 1,275,484 1.47 44,599 2,144,362 2.08
1991 24,328 883,553 2.75 17,126 1,288,497 1.33 41,508 2,172,050 1.91
1992 22,821 884,097 2.58 16,223 1,363,054 1.19 39,250 2,247,151 1.75
1993 23,459 886,706 2.65 16,429 1,409,672 1.17 40,150 2,296,378 1.75
1994 23,841 908,341 2.62 16,811 1,449,247 1.16 40,716 2,357,588 1.73
1995 24,449 933,285 2.62 17,163 1,489,490 1.15 41,817 2,422,775 1.73
1996 24,561 960,194 2.56 17,368 1,523,886 1.14 42,065 2,484,080 1.69
1997 25,135 999,920 2.51 16,829 1,560,452 1.08 42,013 2,560,372 1.64
1998 25,185 1,033,310 2.44 16,219 1,592,057 1.02 41,501 2,625,367 1.58
1999 25,547 1,062,623 2.40 16,059 1,627,618 0.99 41,717 2,690,241 1.55
2000 24,835 1,083,152 2.29 16,116 1,663,773 0.97 41,945 2,746,925 1.53
2001 25,148 1,110,697 2.26 16,990 1,686,642 1.01 42,196 2,797,339 1.51
2002 25,896 1,128,160 2.30 17,013 1,727,596 0.98 43,005 2,855,756 1.51
2003 24,957 1,085,385 2.30 17,783 1,805,508 0.98 42,884 2,890,893 1.48
2004 25,179 1,070,248 2.35 17,581 1,892,265 0.93 42,836 2,962,513 1.45
2005 24,587 1,037,937 2.37 18,627 1,951,870 0.95 43,510 2,989,807 1.46
2006 23,646 1,037,069 2.28 18,791 1,977,047 0.95 42,708 3,014,116 1.42
2007 23,254 1,035,303 2.25 17,908 1,994,519 0.90 41,259 3,029,822 1.36
2008 20,987 990,418 2.12 16,218 1,983,091 0.82 37,423 2,973,509 1.26
2009 19,323 982,180 1.97 14,501 1,974,583 0.73 33,883 2,956,763 1.15
2010 18,089 984,065 1.84 14,659 1,983,200 0.74 32,999 2,967,265 1.11
2011 17,769 974,038 1.82 14,575 1,972,094 0.74 32,479 2,946,132 1.10
2012 18,170 976,624 1.86 15,296 1,992,191 0.77 33,561 2,968,815 1.13

Vehicle types

In 2012, almost three-quarters of pickup and large truck occupant deaths and about 6 in 10 car, minivan, and SUV occupant deaths occurred in rural areas, whereas the majority of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths occurred in urban areas.  Motorcyclist deaths were about equally likely to occur in rural and urban areas. 

Motor vehicle crash deaths by vehicle type and land use, 2012
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%
Cars and minivans 7,369 57 5,605 43 13,001 100
Pickups 3,206 74 1,109 26 4,328 100
SUVs 2,593 62 1,543 37 4,154 100
Large trucks 430 73 159 27 591 100
Motorcycles 2,279 49 2,376 51 4,667 100
Pedestrians 1,245 26 3,483 73 4,743 100
Bicyclists 223 31 497 69 722 100
Total* 18,170 54 15,296 46 33,561 100

Crash types

In 2012, single-vehicle crashes accounted for similar proportions of the motor vehicle crash deaths occurring in rural (59 percent) and in urban areas (56 percent).

Motor vehicle crash deaths by crash type and land use, 2012
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%
Single-vehicle crashes 10,764 59 8,544 56 19,383 58
Multiple-vehicle crashes 7,406 41 6,752 44 14,178 42
Total 18,170 100 15,296 100 33,561 100

Where crashes occur

In 2012, crash deaths in rural areas were less likely to occur on interstates and other arterial roads than crash deaths in urban areas (52 percent compared with 71 percent) and more likely to occur on collector roads (28 compared with 8 percent). 

Motor vehicle crash deaths by road functional class and land use, 2012
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%
Arterial 9,361 52 10,820 71 20,181 60
Collector 5,158 28 1,267 8 6,425 19
Local 3,456 19 3,170 21 6,626 20
Total* 18,170 100 15,296 100 33,561 100

In 2012, 16 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths in rural areas occurred at intersections. By comparison, 32 percent occurred at intersections in urban areas.

Motor vehicle crash deaths by junction type and land use, 2012
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%
Intersection 2,831 16 4,851 32 7,696 23
Non-Intersection 15,339 84 10,445 68 25,865 77
Total* 18,170 100 15,296 100 33,561 100

In 2012, 66 percent of crash deaths in rural areas occurred on roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher. By comparison, 28 percent of crash deaths in urban areas occurred on these roads.

Motor vehicle crash deaths by speed limit and land use, 2012
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%
<35 mph 840 5 2,579 17 3,438 10
35-40 mph 1,792 10 4,039 26 5,850 17
45-50 mph 2,965 16 3,649 24 6,633 20
55+ mph 12,060 66 4,317 28 16,404 49
Total* 18,170 100 15,296 100 33,561 100

Speeding

Speeding has been a factor in about one-third of crash deaths in both rural and urban areas since 2003. Speeding was defined to include crashes in which the driver was issued a traffic citation for speeding or in which driver-related factors coded indicated speed as a factor (driving too fast for conditions, racing or exceeding the posted speed limit).

Motor vehicle crash deaths involving speeding as a contributing factor by land use, 2003-2012
Rural Urban
Speeding related Not speeding relatedTotal Speeding related Not speeding relatedTotal
Number%Number%Number%Number%Number%Number%
2003 8,080 32 16,877 68 24,957 100 5,387 30 12,396 70 17,783 100
2004 8,074 32 17,105 68 25,179 100 5,196 30 12,385 70 17,581 100
2005 7,981 32 16,606 68 24,587 100 5,534 30 13,093 70 18,627 100
2006 7,707 33 15,939 67 23,646 100 5,842 31 12,949 69 18,791 100
2007 7,618 33 15,636 67 23,254 100 5,490 31 12,418 69 17,908 100
2008 6,862 33 14,125 67 20,987 100 4,846 30 11,372 70 16,218 100
2009 6,209 32 13,114 68 19,323 100 4,440 31 10,061 69 14,501 100
2010 5,832 32 12,257 68 18,089 100 4,585 31 10,074 69 14,659 100
2011 5,576 31 12,193 69 17,769 100 4,382 30 10,193 70 14,575 100
2012 5,660 31 12,510 69 18,170 100 4,527 30 10,769 70 15,296 100

In 2012, on roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher, speeding was a factor in the same proportions of crash deaths in rural and urban areas (28 percent). On roads with lower speed limits, speeding was more likely to be a factor in rural crash deaths.

Motor vehicle crash deaths involving speeding as a contributing factor by speed limit and land use, 2012
Rural Urban
Speeding related Not speeding relatedTotal Speeding related Not speeding relatedTotal
Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%
<35 mph 360 43 480 57 840 100 940 36 1,639 64 2,579 100
35-40 mph 808 45 984 55 1,792 100 1,275 32 2,764 68 4,039 100
45-50 mph 1,019 34 1,946 66 2,965 100 922 25 2,727 75 3,649 100
55+ mph 3,322 28 8,738 72 12,060 100 1,200 28 3,117 72 4,317 100
Total* 5,660 31 12,510 69 18,170 100 4,527 30 10,769 70 15,296 100

Alcohol

From 1982 to 1994, the percentage of fatally injured drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 percent declined steadily from 49 percent in both rural and urban areas to 34 percent in rural areas and to 32 percent in urban areas. Since 1994, about a third of fatally injured drivers have had BACs of 0.08 percent or higher in both rural and urban areas. In urban areas, the percentage of fatally injured pedestrians ages 16 and older with BACs at or above 0.08 percent has remained between 34 and 40 percent since 1982. In comparison, in rural areas the percentage of fatally injured pedestrians age 16 and older with BACs at or above 0.08 percent declined from 53 percent in 1982 to 37 percent in 2012, a reduction of 30 percent.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured people with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent by land use, 1982-2012
Rural Urban
Drivers Pedestrians (age ≥16) Drivers Pedestrians (age ≥16)
DeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08DeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08DeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08DeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08
NumberNumber%NumberNumber%NumberNumber%NumberNumber%
1982 15,155 7,486 49 2,076 1,110 53 9,388 4,589 49 3,995 1,598 40
1983 14,958 7,122 48 1,922 1,016 53 9,137 4,404 48 3,760 1,507 40
1984 15,979 7,175 45 1,984 975 49 9,591 4,314 45 3,898 1,508 39
1985 15,610 6,611 42 1,815 882 49 9,711 4,072 42 3,845 1,447 38
1986 16,401 7,070 43 1,819 871 48 10,215 4,336 42 3,847 1,430 37
1987 16,776 6,996 42 1,774 813 46 10,035 4,055 40 3,894 1,391 36
1988 17,393 7,261 42 1,847 832 45 9,834 3,828 39 3,950 1,369 35
1989 16,606 6,701 40 1,632 758 46 9,767 3,929 40 4,000 1,459 36
1990 16,223 6,644 41 1,577 731 46 9,511 3,746 39 3,984 1,433 36
1991 15,285 6,182 40 1,460 667 46 8,615 3,290 38 3,476 1,255 36
1992 14,307 5,501 38 1,362 619 45 8,161 2,910 36 3,408 1,257 37
1993 14,795 5,368 36 1,404 609 43 8,189 2,910 36 3,398 1,279 38
1994 15,078 5,188 34 1,303 565 43 8,576 2,713 32 3,372 1,168 35
1995 15,469 5,436 35 1,403 600 43 8,795 2,830 32 3,408 1,204 35
1996 15,519 5,276 34 1,335 588 44 8,923 2,875 32 3,380 1,241 37
1997 16,008 5,127 32 1,385 541 39 8,635 2,710 31 3,276 1,110 34
1998 16,180 5,228 32 1,402 568 40 8,520 2,595 30 3,216 1,127 35
1999 16,721 5,321 32 1,316 534 41 8,462 2,573 30 3,033 1,126 37
2000 16,205 5,248 32 1,203 486 40 8,705 2,701 31 2,962 1,045 35
2001 16,646 5,356 32 1,297 513 40 9,186 2,885 31 3,107 1,067 34
2002 17,262 5,562 32 1,279 500 39 9,341 2,942 31 3,123 1,095 35
2003 16,795 5,232 31 1,141 453 40 9,892 3,101 31 3,180 1,117 35
2004 16,943 5,157 30 1,148 436 38 9,885 2,985 30 3,122 1,113 36
2005 16,693 5,225 31 1,121 434 39 10,599 3,218 30 3,360 1,139 34
2006 16,350 5,124 31 1,145 460 40 10,831 3,406 31 3,242 1,200 37
2007 16,098 5,182 32 1,142 473 41 10,412 3,414 33 3,189 1,129 35
2008 14,652 4,740 32 1,113 460 41 9,459 3,166 33 2,970 1,093 37
2009 13,472 4,405 33 1,052 403 38 8,331 2,794 34 2,763 1,001 36
2010 12,569 3,852 31 1,053 410 39 8,321 2,672 32 2,926 1,001 34
2011 12,498 3,873 31 1,083 436 40 8,229 2,628 32 3,100 1,116 36
2012 12,796 4,040 32 1,167 431 37 8,540 2,626 31 3,270 1,166 36

Safety belt use

According to a national daytime observational survey of motorists in 2012, safety belt use among front seat occupants was 84 percent in rural areas, 86 percent in urban areas, and 87 percent in suburban areas. Pickrell, T.M. and Ye, T.J. 2013. Seat belt use in 2012 - overall results. Report no. DOT HS-811-691. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Unrestrained vehicle occupants are more likely than restrained occupants to be fatally injured in a crash, so belt use is much lower among fatally injured occupants. In 2012, of fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants 13 and older, 43 percent in rural areas, and 46 percent in urban areas were belted.

Safety belt use among fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants 13 and older by land use, 1991-2012
Rural Urban
Belt usedUnbelted Unknown Belt usedUnbelted Unknown
Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%
2003 7,709 39 10,844 55 1,171 6 4,629 41 5,313 47 1,291 11
2004 7,833 40 10,758 55 1,060 5 4,762 44 5,086 47 1,031 9
2005 7,511 40 10,384 55 1,017 5 4,857 43 5,271 47 1,114 10
2006 7,247 40 9,740 54 1,102 6 4,832 43 5,389 47 1,132 10
2007 7,219 41 9,216 53 1,092 6 4,594 43 4,912 46 1,160 11
2008 6,271 41 8,287 54 899 6 4,007 43 4,334 47 895 10
2009 6,059 42 7,534 52 819 6 3,727 45 3,735 45 847 10
2010 5,701 43 6,709 51 801 6 3,825 46 3,598 43 882 11
2011 5,510 43 6,527 51 770 6 3,567 45 3,474 44 824 10
2012 5,575 43 6,599 51 783 6 3,742 46 3,547 44 851 10

References