[imgcontainer right] [img:Ruralped.jpg] [source]Dan Burden/Walkable and Livable Communities Institute[/source] It’s not impossible to make rural roads safer for pedestrians. A wider shoulder and good markings help. [/imgcontainer]

More than a thousand pedestrians are killed each year on roads in rural areas, according to a new report issued by Transportation for America, an advocacy group.

From 2000 through 2009, federal highway records show that 47,501 pedestrians have died on the nation’s roads. Of these deaths, just over 13,000, or 27.5%, took place on roads in rural areas, according to the Federal Highway Safety Administration. 

These rural roads are slightly more unsafe for pedestrians than city streets, at least on a per capita basis.

The report, Dangerous by Design, finds:

In fact, rural areas, even more so than many metropolitan areas, are characterized by dangerous, high-speed roads, and are far less likely to have sidewalks, crosswalks, and other basic pedestrian infrastructure. Yet, a significant share of the rural population, more than 1.6 million rural households, lacks access to a car. And rural areas and small towns tend to have higher concentrations of older adults and low-income citizens, groups that are less likely to drive.

The distribution of these rural pedestrian deaths was not random, however. Four of the five rural counties with the most pedestrian deaths, for example, are all home to large Native American populations.

Robeson County, North Carolina, had the most pedestrian fatalities during the ten-year period, with 81 deaths, according to the report. Robeson is home to the Lumbee Tribe.

The other rural counties with the most pedestrian deaths are McKinley County, New Mexico, 76 deaths; Navajo County, Arizona, 66 deaths; Mohave County, Arizona, 50 deaths; and Orangeburg County, South Carolina, 46 deaths.

All counties on the list but Orangeburg are home to Native American reservations. 

Other rural counties with high numbers of pedestrian deaths also had high percentages of African-American residents.

Some notable rural vacation spots have high number of pedestrian deaths. Monroe County, Florida — Key West — had 40 deaths from 2000 to 2009, ninth on the list of rural counties.

And Beaufort County, South Carolina, home to Hilton Head, had 24 pedestrian deaths in the decade, 26th on the list of most dangerous rural counties.

“Too many arterial roads, in rural, suburban, and urban areas alike, are simply not built with pedestrians in mind,” Transportation for America reports. “They lack sidewalks, crosswalks, pedestrian refuges, street lighting and school and public bus shelters.”

The pedestrian death rates vary substantially by state. Below is a chart showing the number of total traffic fatalities, pedestrian fatalities and accident rates in the rural counties of every state.


Note: Rates above are figured at accidents per 100,000 residents. In this chart, pedestrian deaths were counted in rural (or non metropolitan) counties.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.