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National Public Radio’s Howard Berkes reports: “Last year, 56 percent of the nation’s 37,261 traffic fatalities occurred in rural areas. Yet rural America has just 23 percent of the nation’s population. In some states, more than 90 percent of highway deaths occur on rural roads. The grim statistics provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also show that drivers on rural roads die at a rate 2.5 times higher per mile traveled than on urban highways. Urban drivers travel twice as many miles but suffer close to half the fatal accidents.”
Berkes’ story is part of an ongoing NPR series of highway safety. The difference between rural and urban fatalities has been studied for years. Several explanations have been offered: People driving rural roads tend to go faster and too often drive without using seat belts. There are more drunk drivers and accidents tend to take place farther from emergency medical care.
Berkes takes listeners to a 120-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 6 between Spanish Fork and Green River in Utah. (Photo above.) Since 1996, Berkes reports, more than 150 people have died on that section of road. “I would think that there is not anybody in the community that doesn’t know someone fairly closely that has been killed on Highway 6,” says Brad King, a vice president of the College of Eastern Utah in Price, a city of about 15,000 people straddling the highway. Give it a listen.