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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how do you have a traffic fatality in stop-n-go traffic???

phreshone on November 20, 2012 at 12:50 PM

Um, this is rather easy to explain. Red states are more rural, thus automobile accidents tend to be more energetic. You live in NYC AP. Do you even have a drivers license?

NotCoach on November 20, 2012 at 1:01 PM

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.

my thoughts exactly as I was reading your piece

cmsinaz on November 20, 2012 at 1:05 PM

Nitpicky, I suppose, but West Virginia really isn’t a “Red State” except when it comes to voting for POTUS. This state has been under Democrat control for 80 years.

delicountessa on November 20, 2012 at 1:05 PM

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.

Reading through other’s posts there is also the important statistic of miles driven. Are fatalities higher in red states then blue states when we looking at the number of fatalities per mile driven?

Then there’s lester…every village needs an idiot I suppose.

NotCoach on November 20, 2012 at 1:13 PM

This study is a complete fail. Where in DC can a driver even get over 50 MPH legally? In fact most DC roads are 25 – 35 MPH. Then compare as noted by others the rural roads.

AH_C on November 20, 2012 at 1:14 PM

Nitpicky, I suppose, but West Virginia really isn’t a “Red State” except when it comes to voting for POTUS. This state has been under Democrat control for 80 years.

delicountessa on November 20, 2012 at 1:05 PM

Would you really compare West Virginian style Democrats to Nanacy Pelosi style Democrats?

NotCoach on November 20, 2012 at 1:14 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.

Duh. It’s the same reason the big blue states will always be blue no matter how red their outstate counties are. Because the urban population (read: non-drivers) is 1) huge and 2) votes Dem.

Missy on November 20, 2012 at 1:15 PM

Duh. It’s the same reason the big blue states will always be blue no matter how red their outstate counties are. Because the urban population (read: non-drivers) is 1) huge and 2) votes Dem.

Missy on November 20, 2012 at 1:15 PM

Yeah, I bet if this was reduced down to the red county vs. blue county level AP would be even more shocked.

“OMG! People who drive more die more often in automobile accidents!!!11!1!!11one!!eleven!”

NotCoach on November 20, 2012 at 1:18 PM

That’s the explanation you’re looking for.

lester on November 20, 2012 at 11:42 AM

I can’t believe everyone missed the real answer: Liberals have harder heads.

Yoop on November 20, 2012 at 1:30 PM

This “red state” thing is misleading. First of all, Wyoming is sparsely populated, remote, and rugged. It could take a very long time to get someone to a trauma center.

Now lets look at some of the others:

Mississippi is listed as a “Red” state but only because they vote Republican for Presidential elections. Their House of Representatives only LAST YEAR changed from Democrat to Republican and had been ruled by Democrats for over 100 years. It is going to take Republicans several years to undo the damage done by 100 years of Democrat rule in that state.

Arkansas: Same story as Mississippi. THIS election is the first time since Reconstruction ended that Arkansas has had a Republican legislature. Democrats have been running that state for over 100 years and it is going to take a while to undo that damage.

Montana: Same story as Wyoming. Very rugged, very remote, can take a long time to get an injured person to a hospital.

Alabama: Also a state long controlled by Democrats even though people voted for Republican Presidential candidates. The Alabama House went Republican in 2010 for the first time in 136 years. Two years is not enough time and in any case, these are 2010 statistics.

Many of these so-called “red” states have had their state governments run by Democrats for over 100 years. You are seeing the result of Democrat policies on health, education, etc.

When liberals point to states like Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas with their low education rates and low health rates, remind them that those are the results of well over 100 years of DEMOCRAT policies. Those states went the entire 20th century ruled by Democrats.

crosspatch on November 20, 2012 at 1:33 PM

Would you really compare West Virginian style Democrats to Nanacy Pelosi style Democrats?

Does the name “Jay Rockerfeller” mean anything to you?

delicountessa on November 20, 2012 at 1:45 PM

Does the name “Jay Rockerfeller” mean anything to you?

delicountessa on November 20, 2012 at 1:45 PM

Or Robert Byrd.

crosspatch on November 20, 2012 at 1:49 PM

Does the name “Jay Rockerfeller” mean anything to you?

delicountessa on November 20, 2012 at 1:45 PM

No. Never heard of him. Now Jay Rockefeller, I’ve heard of him. Regardless, the Democratic Party in West Virginia is not the Democratic Party in California.

NotCoach on November 20, 2012 at 1:51 PM

Not a real extensive subway system in Mississippi. I, too, would like to see that as a “per driver mile” number rather than meaningless per capita.

jdpaz on November 20, 2012 at 1:53 PM

Yeah, I’m not buing the urban thing. Maybe in Manhattan and the outlying Burroughs, but I’m in California. There’s no public transportation, and we drive everywhere.

Wikipedia has a per capita list of cars by state. Why does Wyoming have 1140 cars for every thousand people? That’s 1.14 cars for every man, woman and child.

Almost all of the red states have lots of cars. Maybe there’s just too many cars for the roads.

RINOs are people too on November 20, 2012 at 2:07 PM

Less people drive in blue states which have large cities.

Just like there are more plane crashes in Alaska because people fly there a whole lot more than in the lover 48.

portlandon on November 20, 2012 at 2:20 PM

Why does Wyoming have 1140 cars for every thousand people?

Two reasons.

1. Many in WY have a “work” truck or vehicle and a family vehicle. WY is pretty rural and a lot of people make their living in agriculture or mining or other such jobs.

2. Many in WY live in a remote location. Having two vehicles is a safety issue. If one doesn’t work, you have a spare. Have you ever lived 50 miles from the nearest store/town before in a place that regularly sees temperatures well below zero?

crosspatch on November 20, 2012 at 2:30 PM

RINOs are people too on November 20, 2012 at 2:07 PM

A better statistic is fatalities per mile driven. The PDF linked in the NBC article also gives that breakdown as well. The national average is 1.11 fatalities per 100 million miles driven. And Wyoming is more rural than California.

Now comparing California to Wyoming California has 0.84 deaths per 100 million miles driven while Wyoming has 1.62. That changes the dynamic considerable when viewed in this way from being almost 4 times as likely to die in a car accident in Wyoming to being twice as likely. Both states have also reduced their number of fatalities per 100 million miles driven by more than 70% since 1975. So what accounts for the difference? Ruralness. The average Wyoming driver will have a longer trip to a trauma center then the average California driver.

Perhaps the average number of people riding in each vehicle per state should be factored in as well.

NotCoach on November 20, 2012 at 2:35 PM

What is wrong with you people?

You’re actually arguing the social implications of traffic stats based on ONE article which most of you have obviously not read thoroughly.

STOP HANDING THE OTHER SIDE AMMO! This thread is equal to ten Todd Akins. Seriously, if you’re going to act out their farce for them you should just vote Dem.

WTF?!

Capitalist Hog on November 20, 2012 at 2:43 PM

The maximum speed limit in DC is 25 mph.

I guess if two cars collided head on at that speed it’d be the force of one of them colliding with a concrete wall at 50 mph.

In which case I suppose it’d be possile to have a fatal traffic accident.

But likely??? That’s another matter.

It’d be interesting to get stats on what time of day/night those fatalities occurred. Late at night/early in the morning, perhaps?

I ask, since much of the work day, traffic’s fairly well gridlocked.

Yiwen on November 20, 2012 at 2:52 PM

The maximum speed limit in DC is 25 mph.

Yiwen on November 20, 2012 at 2:52 PM

And there’s usually so much traffic that you’d be lucky to get past 10 mph. Same with New York City.

I used to work in downtown DC and live in VA. Total distance from work to home: 7 miles. It took a minimum of 45 minutes to get home each day, if I drove (and if I was lucky — that’s 45 minutes MINIMUM).

New Jersey has (or had last time I checked, which was, admittedly, many years ago) very strict liquor laws, which may contribute to the stats.

The Rogue Tomato on November 20, 2012 at 2:57 PM

Interesting numbers.
I suspect driving speed contributes to it some. Here is Texas the most of the Farm to Market Roads (county roads) the speed limit is typically 70, the same for highways, and the interstates are at least 70 in the rural areas. Accidents here in/around Lubbock are usually fatal if they’re in the country, but they’re not if it’s in town. I remember my dad talking about something similar growing up around Colorado Springs. I’m not sure how it is in other areas but when I hear of a fatality around Lubbock the people were not wearing a seat belt in most cases, especially in the country.
I wonder if there has been a study on the size of cars by state. My assumption (yeah, assume) is that the mountain states and northern plains have larger vehicles (four wheel drive, and pickups for farms). Owning a four wheel drive was a requirement for the company my dad worked for in Colorado. But I’d assume that larger vehicles have few fatalities in single car accidents. Multiple car accidents would throw the number up.
Access to hospitals has to play a role. There are portions that I drive in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana that are pretty desolate and some of those roads don’t get a lot of traffic. If you’re in an accident you may not have anyone notice for a while. Cell coverage is pretty bad in some of those areas so getting a call out for help can be hard.
I want to see the study of robberies/homicides in red states and blue states (or counties, or precincts).

ritewhit on November 20, 2012 at 2:59 PM

I live in the very blue state of Maryland.

I drive fewer than 5,000 miles a year. And I’m pretty typical of a lot of people in my area.

I don’t think this is too hard to figure out.

Chuckles3 on November 20, 2012 at 3:05 PM

It’s actually quite easy to reduce the number to near zero.

Most accidents occur within 2 miles of home.

So park your car 2 miles from home and walk the rest of the way.

The Rogue Tomato on November 20, 2012 at 3:14 PM

It’s actually quite easy to reduce the number to near zero.

Most accidents occur within 2 miles of home.

So park your car 2 miles from home and walk the rest of the way.

The Rogue Tomato on November 20, 2012 at 3:14 PM

I think you have just proven that liberalism is an infectious disease. :P

NotCoach on November 20, 2012 at 3:20 PM

It’s simple… Rural roads are much more dangerous than interstate or major highways, otherwise.

preallocated on November 20, 2012 at 3:29 PM

Your update was the first thought I had…

astonerii on November 20, 2012 at 3:41 PM

Another issue is that the average population in red states tends to be slightly younger than in blue states. And younger people tend to crash more (this from a guy that taught all 4 of my kids to drive).

Buckland on November 20, 2012 at 3:58 PM

The fact that the researchers didn’t think to do these same numbers per miles driven or licensed drivers means they’re either stupid or biased.

Go read the comments at the link and see how many people are clapping like seals (while ironically calling red states stupid and ignorant of science) instead of looking at the numbers with a discerning eye.

BadgerHawk on November 20, 2012 at 4:11 PM

Actually, the highest incidence of traffic deaths is from people over the age of 65. They just squeak past 17 year olds.

I can buy into the time to the hospital. Even in the city it takes 11 minutes for paramedics to arrive. I was struck by a car and I live less than 2 miles from a fire station and it still took almost 10 minutes.

RINOs are people too on November 20, 2012 at 4:13 PM

I guess if two cars collided head on at that speed it’d be the force of one of them colliding with a concrete wall at 50 mph.

Yiwen on November 20, 2012 at 2:52 PM

Is this really Jamie Hyneman?

scrub_oak on November 20, 2012 at 4:15 PM

Chuckles3 on November 20, 2012 at 3:05 PM

Yeah. I live in a rural part of a blue state and have to log about 16,000 miles/year back and forth from work, 98% of it on roads with a 55 mph speed limit or higher.

It’s amazing that the quoted ‘experts’ in the article didn’t account for any of these other factors.

Maybe, like AP, they don’t have to drive much and these other factors really didn’t occur to them.

BadgerHawk on November 20, 2012 at 4:16 PM

The fact that the researchers didn’t think to do these same numbers per miles driven or licensed drivers means they’re either stupid or biased.

BadgerHawk on November 20, 2012 at 4:11 PM

The federal study did, but NBC chose to focus on the most ridiculous aspect they could conjure up. Page 198 of the linked PDF in the NBC article.

NotCoach on November 20, 2012 at 4:19 PM

What percentage of people in Wyoming have a car? 98, 99? You kind of have to have one to go anywhere.

If you assume that 85% of New Yorkers have a car (I have no idea what the real % is) then their number, adjusted per 100,000 licensed drivers jumps from 6.19 to 7.28.

That doesn’t even account for the fact that the average Wyoming drivers drives a LOT further and a LOT faster than the average New Yorker.

BadgerHawk on November 20, 2012 at 4:25 PM

NotCoach on November 20, 2012 at 4:19 PM

Thanks.

The range on those numbers goes from .67 to 1.69. Nowhere near as ridiculous a spread as the article implies.

BadgerHawk on November 20, 2012 at 4:28 PM

All I have is this: Lately, the State of Texas has spent enormous of money widening two-lane rural hiways to include full-width breakdown lays. They are widening everythin in Mesquito Canyon and vicinity at great expense, including moving underground telephone lines back 10 or fifteen to make room. My most credible sources* tell me that State actuaries have determines that 2-lane rural highways are uncommonly deadly.

* local blowhards

mesquito on November 20, 2012 at 4:29 PM

Well, obviously, the heartless evil conservatives in red state land will run you off the road if you don’t get out of their way, especially if you have an Obama/Biden sticker on your window. You libs better think twice before you move out here.

bitsy on November 20, 2012 at 4:32 PM

BadgerHawk on November 20, 2012 at 4:28 PM

Check out page 190. Average time after accident to get those involved in accidents to get to the hospital. It takes over 65 minutes in Wyoming, the second highest on the list.

NotCoach on November 20, 2012 at 4:35 PM

NotCoach on November 20, 2012 at 4:35 PM

Or page 66, time of crash to EMS notification.

Over 94% of crashes in urban areas have EMS notifcation within 10 minutes, vs. only 85.6% in rural areas.

It also takes more than an hour to get to the hospital in 36.4% of rural crashes, vs. only 10.4% in urban crashes.

There’s a ton of data in that pdf to explain the differences.

BadgerHawk on November 20, 2012 at 4:51 PM

I wonder how India or China stack up in this list.

BobMbx on November 20, 2012 at 4:57 PM

Idiotic. It’s plainly obvious. The blue precincts have far fewer drivers / cars. In the red zones the vehicle ratio is likely close to 1:1. Maybe even MORE than one vehicle per adult. In a place like NYC it’s probably not even one vehicle per 500 people. TV shows make jokes about the lack of vehicle ownership or driving skills in th Big Shitty.

rayra on November 20, 2012 at 5:10 PM

I do transportation analysis of various kinds, for a living.

Anybody who thinks this is “freaky-deaky” or “mind-blowing” is off his/her rocker (AP-a good rule of thumb is: whatever that hateful hack Thomas Franks thinks is true, is probably wrong-particularly with regard to stats).

If you want to get an idea of how much people in a certain area drive-look at he stats for vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) per capita.

http://www.bts.gov/publications/state_transportation_statistics/state_transportation_statistics_2011/html/table_05_03.html

Then compare it to the accidents per capita table linked above.

You will notice a strong correlation between higher VMT and higher fatalities.

Just as an exercise, I calculated the correlation coefficient between the traffic fatalities per capita and VMT per capita, by state.

The coefficient is 0.85 which indicates a strong, bordering on very strong, correlation.

Just as common sense tells you: the more people drive, the more likely they are to have an accident.

The other factors like % of two lane rural highways, and distance to hospitals, etc. probably contribute relatively little to the difference in the overall fatality rates. That’s not to say it isn’t important to try to minimize travel time to a hospital, or other factors, since every life is valuable. But they are relatively minor factors contibuting to the difference in fatality rates.

Dreadnought on November 20, 2012 at 5:37 PM

Another meaningless comparison that supposedly makes Democrats better.

pat on November 20, 2012 at 5:44 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

You sir, are a fool.

If you look at the actuarial tables, the same factors that tend to cause people to vote conservative (marital status, income, age, etc.) also tend to be the same groups that have lowest accident rates.

Where did you get the idea that conservativse disregard laws (or reality for that matter?

All those clowns I saw with “Question Authority” sitckers on their cars and pins on their backpacks a few years ago, were conservatives, I suppose.

Dreadnought on November 20, 2012 at 5:48 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

I didn’t buy a Camaro to show how good I am at obeying laws.

Chuck Schick on November 20, 2012 at 5:56 PM

lester on November 20, 2012 at 11:42 AM

Shouldn’t you be posting at some hate site, applauding the death rates of red-staters?

Dirt McGirt on November 20, 2012 at 6:38 PM

Speed doesn’t kill.

Speed DIFFERENTIAL kills.

Red states have a lot of backroads, where people drive 80 mph. And 10 mph.

VOILA.

Seen it myself more times than I can to count. It’s hard to work up fatal speed differentiation in heavy traffic.

wordwarp on November 20, 2012 at 11:11 PM

I guess if two cars collided head on at that speed it’d be the force of one of them colliding with a concrete wall at 50 mph.

Yiwen on November 20, 2012 at 2:52 PM

No. It would be like colliding with a wall at 25.

The wall sends 25 back to you, which is the same as two 25 drivers would do to each other. It’s not intuitively correct, but it’s correct just the same.

FruitedPlain on November 21, 2012 at 12:55 PM

I guess if two cars collided head on at that speed it’d be the force of one of them colliding with a concrete wall at 50 mph.

Yiwen on November 20, 2012 at 2:52 PM

If you assume both vehicles are equal in mass and velocity, and that they both absorb the accident energy in equal proportions, then the head on collision of two cars at 25 mph is equivalent to one car hitting a “wall” at the same speed.

Think of it this way: the “wall” in your assumption is an object which imparts a force equal to and opposite to the moving vehicle. You can replace that “wall” with another vehicle which can provide that equal and opposite force. No doubling occurs.

The way head-on collisions get messy is whey you’re in a smaller vehicle but hit a larger vehicle head-on. Then things are not balanced, and in the worst case it would be like hitting a “wall” which is travelling toward you, rather than sitting still. Then the net effect on the smaller vehicle is worse than just hitting a stationary wall.

TexasDan on November 21, 2012 at 3:16 PM

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