Green Room

Chart of the day: The freaky deaky red state/blue state traffic fatality comparison

posted at 10:59 am on November 20, 2012 by

Follow the link and have a look at the numbers state by state. Mind-blowing, not just because the trend is so clear but because it defies all obvious explanation.

To an extent that mystifies safety experts and other observers, federal statistics show that people in red states are more likely to die in road crashes. The least deadly states – those with the fewest crash deaths per 100,000 people — overwhelmingly are blue…

The 10 states with the highest fatality rates all were red, while all but one of the 10 lowest-fatality states were blue. What’s more, the place with the nation’s lowest fatality rate, while not a state, was the very blue District of Columbia…

When shown the pattern, author Thomas Frank — who has examined the nation’s political culture in such books as “What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America” – called it “amazing.”

Normally I have some half-assed theory to explain a data set but this time it’s no more than quarter-assed. My first hunch was that there might be a difference in seatbelt laws, but no, there really isn’t much of one. Then I thought maybe it’s a function of red states being more rural, which means more open road, which in turn means people driving faster and having more devastating accidents. But presumably they’re having fewer accidents too. Blue-state roads are likely more congested, which means there’s more out there to collide with. Granted, average crash speeds in blue states may be lower, which would mean more survivable accidents, but if there are many more accidents there should also be many more fatal accidents. So, I don’t get it.

Here’s an interesting detail from the NBC piece, though:

Traffic safety experts generally suggest that a mix of factors accounts for the varying rates. Possible variables include access to top-level trauma centers, weather conditions and how much of a state is rural, because rural residents may drive longer distances on narrow, winding roads. Lower income and education levels may also contribute to higher death rates.

Maybe that explains it. It’s not that the accidents are more severe in rural states, it’s that it takes longer to transport the victims to the nearest hospital because the nearest hospital is farther away. And those extra minutes after a crash are often decisive. I think that theory at least qualifies as half-assed rather than quarter-assed, but right now it’s the best I can do.

Update: A few commenters make a solid argument that this has less to do with open roads in rural states than the fact that there are many more non-drivers in urban states. (Including your humble correspondent.) E.g., it may be that traffic fatalities are roughly even among the pool of drivers in Wyoming and New York, respectively, but toss in a few million non-drivers in NYC and that’ll dilute the numbers for New York among the general population. In other words, the study is using the wrong baseline to compare fatalities. Apples and oranges.

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Comment pages: 1 2

Quick! Propose a mandatory light rail system in every state!

Reminds me of that article in the NY Post(?) where the columnist posited that, if automobiles didn’t exist until right now, no one would ever be allowed private ownership of one.

CurtZHP on November 20, 2012 at 11:04 AM

Is it red/blue or is it long commute/short commute?

lorien1973 on November 20, 2012 at 11:05 AM

If I had to guess, I’d have to say that most of the red states are, well, very large and very unpopulated. And people drive like hell there.

People frequently speed in the Mountain West states – I’m pretty sure at least one politician in the Dakotas had to resign because he killed someone with his car.

KingGold on November 20, 2012 at 11:05 AM

More use of mass transit in urban areas?

BKeyser on November 20, 2012 at 11:07 AM

The least deadly states – those with the fewest crash deaths per 100,000 people — overwhelmingly are blue…

You need to go by drivers, not people… there should still be fewer fatalities where they have better access to emergency services, but it won’t be near as lopsided.

ninjapirate on November 20, 2012 at 11:12 AM

Aren’t there just more cities in blue states, and thus much larger populations of people who don’t even own cars?

Liberty 5-3001 on November 20, 2012 at 11:12 AM

It looks to be a function of population and/or population density.

Style Doggie on November 20, 2012 at 11:12 AM

Complicating things further is the possibility that deaths per 100,000 residents isn’t the best yardstick for comparisons. Fatalities per total miles traveled, some experts say, is better.

ding! ding!

Populations in the blue states are often are skewed towards more urban living, where public transportation is utilized more. In other words, the average New Yorker likely drives far fewer miles per year than the average Montana resident, because millions of people in NYC don’t drive period.

trubble on November 20, 2012 at 11:14 AM

I admit I’m surprised by California being so low on this list, those people define themselves by constant gridlock and complete lack of public transit.

Liberty 5-3001 on November 20, 2012 at 11:15 AM

KingGold on November 20, 2012 at 11:05 AM

Driving fast =/= driving unsafe. The speed limit on all NJ highways is 55(at least when I lived there a decade ago), and most cars drive 70 but not all, and it’s terrifying because of the mix of speeds. In CO, the highways are 75 mph, most cars drive 75-80 and it works reasonably well.

alwaysfiredup on November 20, 2012 at 11:16 AM

Allah, simple reason: urbanism.

Norwegian on November 20, 2012 at 11:19 AM

more population density = closer proximity to medical care

If you’re involved in a 1 car wreck in WY, you will be there for days or weeks before someones sees you. It’s hard to get away with that in NY for example.

gatorboy on November 20, 2012 at 11:20 AM

Dittos Ninja. How many drivers per 100k make up that stat? I would guess a rural AZ town has many more drivers per 100k than Manhattan.

TexAz on November 20, 2012 at 11:20 AM

Lower income and education levels may also contribute to higher death rates.

life just isn’t fair

gatorboy on November 20, 2012 at 11:21 AM

It appears to be urban vs rural and population related:

Number of households by state without having a car.

1 New York 2,092,756
2 California 1,091,214
3 Pennsylvania 613,249
4 Texas 548,125
5 Illinois 543,582
6 Florida 515,455
7 New Jersey 388,950
8 Ohio 380,179
9 Massachusetts 311,079
10 Michigan 290,240

And miles driven annually.

States with the Most Miles Driven Annually

The FHWA also keeps statistics about the miles driven by drivers in each state. According to the FHWA, these are the top five states for annual miles driven:

Wyoming, where the average driver in this state drives 21,821 miles annually
Georgia, where drivers travel 18,920 miles each year on average
Oklahoma, where the average driver logs 18,8891 miles each year
New Mexico, where the average miles per year per driver is 18,369
Minnesota, where the average licensed resident drives 17,887 miles annually.

But other than that just another study to show how dumb the red state rubes are and how superior the blue states are. Hence trying to tie this information into the voting habits of a state.

HumpBot Salvation on November 20, 2012 at 11:24 AM

Populations in the blue states are often are skewed towards more urban living, where public transportation is utilized more. In other words, the average New Yorker likely drives far fewer miles per year than the average Montana resident, because millions of people in NYC don’t drive period.

trubble on November 20, 2012 at 11:14 AM

This.

Also, blue states are less likely than red states, on average, to have slippery bridges over dark, murky water /obligatory Chappaquiddick reference

The Schaef on November 20, 2012 at 11:25 AM

Allah, simple reason: urbanism.

Norwegian on November 20, 2012 at 11:19 AM

Yeah, they are more likely to die by shooting in the inner cities than by car accidents…

mnjg on November 20, 2012 at 11:27 AM

Many more accidents at lower speeds ≠ more fatalities, I shouldn’t think. An additional maybe is that people unused to driving in moderate to high speed congested areas are also lousier drivers. A lot of motorists here in NM are manifestly unfamiliar with the concept of a directional signal, for example.

Seth Halpern on November 20, 2012 at 11:27 AM

Can we compare this to per-capita deaths by armed robbery, and see which states do best/worst?

alwaysfiredup on November 20, 2012 at 11:28 AM

Can we compare this to per-capita deaths by armed robbery, and see which states do best/worst?

alwaysfiredup on November 20, 2012 at 11:28 AM

Well that will be a little skewed to a certain demographic as well…how about typical voting patterns of those who commit violent crimes by state.

HumpBot Salvation on November 20, 2012 at 11:36 AM

It’s speed.

Hitting the side of the bus at 35 mph isn’t nearly as likely to kill you as slipping off into the ditch at 62 mph and rolling it two or three times.

If there’s a way to determine average ‘closing’ rate of speed at impact, per state, I suspect you’ll have your answer.

M240H on November 20, 2012 at 11:40 AM

Me wonders if NBC would have bothered publishing their findings if the results had favored Red states.

heretic on November 20, 2012 at 11:41 AM

Many more accidents at lower speeds ≠ more fatalities, I shouldn’t think.

Well, a few more. But my point is that they’re having many more accidents generally, including at high speeds.

Allahpundit on November 20, 2012 at 11:41 AM

Conservative disregard for laws and reality.

Gubmint mandated seatbelt? Not for me!
Gubmint mandated speed limit? Not for me!

That’s the explanation you’re looking for.

lester on November 20, 2012 at 11:42 AM

Washington DC is completely urbanized and there is no speed limit higher than 35 miles an hour anywhere in the District. Plus they have speeding and red-light cameras everywhere.

The few major highways in New Jersey are crawling with state troopers all the time. This does tend to curb reckless driving and excessive speed. Most of them are commuter roads so they are also slow at peak rush hour times when the most cars are on the road.

I wonder if Red states have fewer speeding and red light cameras because they are a) not so much into nanny-statism, and b) not as desperate to raise revenues through traffic fines.

Also it might be interesting to look at Red vs. Blue states in temrs of driving ages and required training. Pennsylvania just raised its driver training requirements to 65 hours, with five of those must be at night and another five in inclement weather.

rockmom on November 20, 2012 at 11:48 AM

Related to population/fewer trauma centers per sq/mi in Red States:
Drive off the road drunk in a Red State, it could be minutes or even an hour before someone sees you and calls 911; high-population areas will call 911 immediately. Between longer notification and transportation to hospitals, and less advanced hospitals, that may account for 100% of the discrepancy.

G. Charles on November 20, 2012 at 11:48 AM

Conservative disregard for laws and reality.

Gubmint mandated seatbelt? Not for me!
Gubmint mandated speed limit? Not for me!

That’s the explanation you’re looking for.

lester on November 20, 2012 at 11:42 AM

A member of the parasite class opining stupidly… Did it cross your tiny brain the “age group” of those who are involved in car crashes regardless of which red/blue state they belong to? Which age group do you think gets more in car accidents and has more tendency to break the traffic laws… The 35+ years old who majority of them vote Republican or the < 35 years old who majority of them vote democrat?…

mnjg on November 20, 2012 at 11:48 AM

Conservative disregard for laws

lester on November 20, 2012 at 11:42 AM

How the 1960s liberals have fallen; now they think we should all be good little law abiding drones.

alwaysfiredup on November 20, 2012 at 11:49 AM

Allahpundit:

The study shall be more focused on “age group” of those who are involved in car crashes regardless of which red/blue state they belong to. Which age group do you think gets more in car accidents and has more tendency to break the traffic laws… The 35+ years old who majority of them vote Republican or the < 35 years old who majority of them vote democrat?…

mnjg on November 20, 2012 at 11:49 AM

It’s hard to have a fatal crash when you’re bumper to bumper at 5 mph.

Mystery solved.

mad scientist on November 20, 2012 at 11:50 AM

That’s the explanation you’re looking for.

lester on November 20, 2012 at 11:42 AM

Yeah, the whole conservative philosophy is based on ignoring the rule of law.

Thanks for proving what a idiot you are.

HumpBot Salvation on November 20, 2012 at 11:50 AM

Funny how you can tell by the story where the link will go. ‘Red states must be inferior and here is the proof’ type stories always go to NBC.

MechanicalBill on November 20, 2012 at 11:51 AM

Conservative disregard for laws and reality.

Gubmint mandated seatbelt? Not for me!
Gubmint mandated speed limit? Not for me!

That’s the explanation you’re looking for.

lester on November 20, 2012 at 11:42 AM

You’re probably right in terms of seat belts. I never wore a seat belt when I lived in Kentucky. My parents never wore theirs either. I didn’t wear one until I moved to the DC area where they were more strict about it. Took me a long time to get used to one.

Everyone flouts speed limits, that is not a conservative thing. I get passed avery day on I-295 in New Jersey by people driving 80 and even 90 mph.

rockmom on November 20, 2012 at 11:51 AM

BTW, a lot of the high-speed highway accidents in Northern Ca are vehicles traveling in the emergency lane hitting disabled cars.
If your car breaks down you are advised to exit the vehicle and stand at least 50 feet away for your own protection.

mad scientist on November 20, 2012 at 11:52 AM

Reminds me of the old joke, What’s the last thing a redneck says before he dies? “Hey, y’all, watch this!”

Eh, it was funnier the first time I heard it.

Grantman on November 20, 2012 at 12:04 PM

Mind-blowing, not just because the trend is so clear but because it defies all obvious explanation.

NOT mind-blowing!!!

It’s very hard to be involved in a traffic accident when you’re living in a Liberal prison colony with no transportation.

In Washington DC, 35mph isn’t the limit, it’s the daytime RECORD.

landlines on November 20, 2012 at 12:05 PM

And I should add that it’s speculation that Junia was female. I understand the arguments and actually lean that way (that Junia was more likely female) but there is no proof or certainty.

G. Charles on November 20, 2012 at 12:07 PM

wrong blog!

G. Charles on November 20, 2012 at 12:08 PM

You want to even it out? Add in pedestrian and bike riding deaths. And do per mile driven.

Today’s cars take some decent speed or a real disparity in size between the vehicles involved to cause death. Hummer versus Honda Fit? Doesn’t take much speed. How many people do you think drive Hummers in NYC?

Blue state population areas it’s a bunch of Priuses and other hybrids driving 10 MPH on the freeway.

PastorJon on November 20, 2012 at 12:13 PM

I admit I’m surprised by California being so low on this list, those people define themselves by constant gridlock and complete lack of public transit.

Liberty 5-3001 on November 20, 2012 at 11:15 AM

Your car must be moving to actually have a fatal crash.

FSCgirl on November 20, 2012 at 12:14 PM

A lot of motorists here in NM are manifestly unfamiliar with the concept of a directional signal, for example.

Seth Halpern on November 20, 2012 at 11:27 AM

I think that could be a nationwide, if not worldwide, epidemic.

Mitoch55 on November 20, 2012 at 12:14 PM

Reminds me of the old joke, What’s the last thing a redneck says before he dies? “Hey, y’all, watch this!”

Eh, it was funnier the first time I heard it.

Grantman on November 20, 2012 at 12:04 PM

I heard it was, “Here, hold my beer.”

Mitoch55 on November 20, 2012 at 12:16 PM

Safety is of particular importance in rural areas because crashes are more likely to be fatal in rural than urban areas. In 2000, there were 21,798 fatal collisions on rural roads versus 14,826 for urban roads. The high number of rural fatalities is likely due to a variety of factors, including extreme terrain, faster speeds, increased alcohol involvement, and the longer time intervals from the occurrence of a crash to the availability of medical treatment, due to delays in locating crash victims and the distance to hospitals…

Safety related to at-grade rail crossings is also an important issue for rural America, as is bicycle and pedestrian safety because bicycling and walking are prevalent modes of transportation in some rural areas. Thirty-five percent of bicyclists’ fatalities occur in rural areas and, although fewer pedestrians are injured in rural areas than in urban areas, incidents with pedestrians are more likely to be fatal due to the time it takes to reach a hospital.

Fallon on November 20, 2012 at 12:19 PM

Conservative disregard for laws and reality.

Gubmint mandated seatbelt? Not for me!
Gubmint mandated speed limit? Not for me!

That’s the explanation you’re looking for.

lester on November 20, 2012 at 11:42 AM

Um, those are Libertarian, not Conservative cries. Yeah, we overlap some, but conservatives are a law abiding bunch, more so than even the liberals in the White House.

And yeah, what happened to “fight the man, dude!” Or was that liberal cry just for the right to get stoned, not be drafted, and to not have any responsibility?

See that’s what liberals don’t get as they cheer more and more power in the executive branch’s hands. You may cheer for an EO from Obama bypassing Congress to do DREAM, but it will bite you in the rear when a conservative uses that same precedent to bypass all gun control laws . . .

PastorJon on November 20, 2012 at 12:20 PM

This study is based on per capita? Dumb. It should be based on driver miles. Like airline safety is based on accident rate per passenger mile.

juliesa on November 20, 2012 at 12:21 PM

E.g., it may be that traffic fatalities are roughly even among the pool of drivers in Wyoming and New York, respectively, but toss in a few million non-drivers in NYC and that’ll dilute the numbers for New York among the general population. In other words, the study is using the wrong baseline to compare fatalities. Apples and oranges.

I always thought this would be a better way to determine insurance rates too. If two people have three accidents in three years but one drives 40K miles a year traveling with a job and the other drives 5K a year, to the grocery store and to church on Sundays it’s a very different picture.

hopeful on November 20, 2012 at 12:22 PM

I get passed avery day on I-295 in New Jersey by people driving 80 and even 90 mph.

rockmom on November 20, 2012 at 11:51 AM

So they do still drive like that. Are the speed limits still all 55?

alwaysfiredup on November 20, 2012 at 12:28 PM

A few commenters make a solid argument that this has less to do with open roads in rural states than the fact that there are many more non-drivers in urban states. (Including your humble correspondent.) E.g., it may be that traffic fatalities are roughly even among the pool of drivers in Wyoming and New York, respectively, but toss in a few million non-drivers in NYC and that’ll dilute the numbers for New York among the general population. In other words, the study is using the wrong baseline to compare fatalities. Apples and oranges.

All of the above.

If it’s not per miles driven, it’s totally pointless.

logis on November 20, 2012 at 12:35 PM

Not shocking at all. I’m from rural TN and about 5% of my high school class had died in auto accidents by our 20th reunion. Bad roads, lots of trees, lots of driving. Alchohol is no small factor either, which is why red Utah is so far down the list. Can’t understand Alaska being so low.

BuzzCrutcher on November 20, 2012 at 12:38 PM

Somehow, I blame George Bush and racism.

In all honesty however, I’ve been amazed at the number of severe, and sometimes fatal accidents in W Arizona compared with my 50 years in N Illinois. Perhaps it’s the ‘small-town newspaper’ phenomenon (nothing else to put on the from page); some of it is the number of old drivers, three of whom have driven through storefronts in the last 18 months in a town of <75,000.

Alcohol is up there, but distance as a corollary of speed and aggregate mileage is I believe a factor as well. Hard to kill yourself driving from one suburb to another at 30mph in the Chicago metro; not so, where the towns are farther in between.
Outside of that: I got nothin'. Cannot figure this one out, either.

orangemtl on November 20, 2012 at 12:49 PM

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