Fatality Facts 2017Urban/rural comparison

Urban/rural comparison

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: https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/geography/guidance/geo-areas/urban-rural/2010-urban-rural.html. Accessed May 15, 2019.and 30 percent of the vehicle miles traveled occur in rural areas, Federal Highway Administration. 2017. Highway statistics, 2016. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation.almost 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.

Posted December 2018.

Vehicle types

In 2017, 73 percent of large truck occupant deaths, 67 percent of pickup occupant deaths, and 57 percent of SUV occupant deaths occurred in rural areas, whereas more than 70 percent of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths occurred in urban areas. Motorcyclists were more likely to die in urban than in rural areas.

Motor vehicle crash deaths by vehicle type and land use, 2017
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths % Deaths % Deaths %
Cars and minivans 6,767 49 6,727 49 13,775 100
Pickups 2,965 67 1,367 31 4,407 100
SUVs 2,973 57 2,114 41 5,174 100
Large trucks 501 73 173 25 683 100
Motorcycles 1,986 38 3,025 58 5,172 100
Pedestrians 1,141 19 4,642 78 5,977 100
Bicyclists 187 24 554 71 777 100
Total* 17,216 46 19,038 51 37,133 100

Crash types

In 2017, single-vehicle crashes accounted for similar proportions of the crash deaths occurring in rural (55 percent) and in urban areas (53 percent).

Motor vehicle crash deaths by crash type and land use, 2017
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths % Deaths % Deaths %
Single-vehicle crashes 9,384 55 10,099 53 19,969 54
Multiple-vehicle crashes 7,832 45 8,939 47 17,164 46
Total 17,216 100 19,038 100 37,133 100

Where crashes occur

In 2017, crash deaths in rural areas were less likely to occur on interstates and other arterial roads than crash deaths in urban areas (41 percent compared with 77 percent) and more likely to occur on collector roads (39 percent compared with 9 percent) and local roads (20 percent compared with 14 percent).

Motor vehicle crash deaths by road functional class and land use, 2017
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths % Deaths % Deaths %
Arterial 7,028 41 14,652 77 21,680 58
Collector 6,777 39 1,636 9 8,413 23
Local 3,395 20 2,732 14 6,127 17
Total* 17,216 100 19,038 100 37,133 100

In 2017, 16 percent of crash deaths in rural areas occurred at intersections, compared with 32 percent in urban areas.

Motor vehicle crash deaths by junction type and land use, 2017
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths % Deaths % Deaths %
Intersection 2,692 16 6,119 32 9,123 25
Non-Intersection 14,524 84 12,919 68 28,010 75
Total* 17,216 100 19,038 100 37,133 100

In 2017, 71 percent of crash deaths in rural areas occurred on roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher. By comparison, 29 percent of crash deaths in urban areas occurred on these roads.

Motor vehicle crash deaths by speed limit and land use, 2017
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths % Deaths % Deaths %
≤35 mph 1,483 9 5,838 31 7,583 20
40-50 mph 3,139 18 6,690 35 10,224 28
55+ mph 12,156 71 5,616 29 17,904 48
Total* 17,216 100 19,038 100 37,133 100

Speeding

There has been a general downward trend in the proportion of crash deaths involving speeding as a contributing factor in both rural and urban areas since 2008, with the proportion declining from 33 percent in 2008 to 27 percent in 2017 in rural areas, and from 30 percent in 2008 to 26 percent in 2017 in urban areas. Speeding is defined to include crashes in which the driver was issued a traffic citation for speeding or in which driver-related factors included 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, 2008-2017
Rural Urban
Speeding-related Not speeding-related Total Speeding-related Not speeding-related Total
Number % Number % Number % Number % Number % Number %
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 5,756 31 12,611 69 18,367 100 4,559 30 10,812 70 15,371 100
2013 5,376 30 12,364 70 17,740 100 4,311 29 10,808 71 15,119 100
2014 4,905 29 11,886 71 16,791 100 4,367 27 11,550 73 15,917 100
2015 4,826 27 12,746 73 17,572 100 4,504 27 12,326 73 16,830 100
2016 5,116 28 13,205 72 18,321 100 5,150 27 14,207 73 19,357 100
2017 4,660 27 12,556 73 17,216 100 4,952 26 14,086 74 19,038 100

In 2017, on roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher, speeding was a factor in similar proportions of crash deaths in rural (24 percent) and urban areas (25 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, 2017
Rural Urban
Speeding-related Not speeding-related Total Speeding-related Not speeding-related Total
Deaths % Deaths % Deaths % Deaths % Deaths % Deaths %
≤35 mph 595 40 888 60 1,483 100 1,731 30 4,107 70 5,838 100
40-50 mph 1,062 34 2,077 66 3,139 100 1,618 24 5,072 76 6,690 100
55+ mph 2,893 24 9,263 76 12,156 100 1,398 25 4,218 75 5,616 100
Total* 4,660 27 12,556 73 17,216 100 4,952 26 14,086 74 19,038 100

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. This percentage has declined more gradually since 1994 and was 27 percent in rural areas and 29 percent in urban areas in 2017.

In urban areas, the percentage of fatally injured pedestrians ages 16 and older with BACs at or above 0.08 percent has ranged from 34 to 40 percent since 1982. By comparison, in rural areas the percentage declined from 53 percent in 1982 to 33 percent in 2017, a reduction of 38 percent.

Percent distribution of fatally injured people with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent by type and land use, 1982-2017

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured people with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent by land use, 1982-2017
Rural Urban
Drivers Pedestrians (age ≥16) Drivers Pedestrians (age ≥16)
Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08
Number Number % Number Number % Number Number % Number Number %
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 12,920 4,072 32 1,190 445 37 8,549 2,654 31 3,323 1,191 36
2013 12,405 3,830 31 1,199 463 39 8,523 2,712 32 3,305 1,137 34
2014 11,864 3,659 31 1,033 372 36 8,906 2,721 31 3,633 1,238 34
2015 12,322 3,385 27 1,137 393 35 9,388 2,729 29 3,871 1,318 34
2016 12,871 3,467 27 1,186 382 32 10,788 3,191 30 4,576 1,600 35
2017 12,358 3,378 27 1,086 354 33 10,738 3,098 29 4,464 1,500 34

Safety belt use

According to a national daytime observational survey of motorists in 2017, safety belt use among front seat occupants was 89 percent in rural areas and 90 percent in urban areas. Li, R. and Pickrell, T.M. 2018. Seat belt use in 2017 — overall results. Report No. DOT HS-812-465. 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 2017, 47 percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants 13 and older in rural areas and 49 percent in urban areas were belted.

Safety belt use among fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants 13 and older by land use, 2008-2017
Rural Urban
Belt used Unbelted Unknown Belt used Unbelted Unknown
Deaths % Deaths % Deaths % Deaths % Deaths % Deaths %
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 5,643 43 6,669 51 786 6 3,749 46 3,529 43 866 11
2013 5,714 45 6,184 49 846 7 3,778 47 3,273 41 911 11
2014 5,565 46 5,871 48 729 6 4,031 48 3,382 41 932 11
2015 5,929 47 5,987 47 813 6 4,205 48 3,537 40 1,024 12
2016 6,183 47 6,232 47 825 6 4,740 48 4,063 41 1,130 11
2017 5,883 47 5,756 46 858 7 4,926 49 3,989 40 1,178 12