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Emergency Response Times Across the U.S.

Drivers across the United States count on emergency response services to take crucial action in dangerous and potentially fatal road situations. Emergency responders can manage road disputes, repair unsafe road conditions , or even provide urgent medical attention. In the nation’s worst driving emergencies, effective response times can mean the difference between life and death for those involved in accidents and crashes.

We collected data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) to find out when and where in America response times to fatal crashes are at their best and at their worst. Take a look at the results – state geography, the time of year, and even the hour of the day can all factor into the shockingly fast or surprisingly slow arrival times of emergency response teams.

Response Across America

The average emergency response time of every state in the U.S. is 15 minutes, 19.2 seconds. Immediately, Wyoming jumps off the map as the state with the longest response time, at an average statewide time of 35 minutes, 44.4 seconds. The state with the second-longest average response time is Vermont, but even Vermont’s average falls at just below 23 minutes, leaving Wyoming as a very weak outlier.

Shocking as its response time may be, Wyoming’s population rates and geographical features may hold the key to response time trends across the country. Wyoming is the least populous of the 50 states, and it has the second-lowest population density of all the states. Vermont, Montana, North Dakota, and Kansas all join Wyoming on the list of top five longest response times across the country, and all are states that fall in the bottom half of population density rankings nationwide. Perhaps low population density can be linked to slow average emergency response times in this way.

On the other side of the equation, the five states with the nation’s shortest response times all rank at 12th place or above as America’s most population dense states. Three of those shortest response time records are held in Northeastern states, and more specifically, in New England. Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts are all small states with very high population density, which may contribute to their top-notch response times at less than nine minutes each. The Midwestern state of Illinois has the shortest emergency response time in the country, possibly balancing out average response times in the region against Wyoming’s slow statewide average.

Summer Response Danger Zones

A breakdown of driving fatalities and average response times by month paints a clear picture of the most dangerous seasons to be on the road. Average monthly fatalities increase dramatically leading into summer, which is apparent in the stark jump to almost 2,409 average fatalities in June when compared with the lowest – February's rate of 1,522 fatalities on average. In June, average response time also spikes by an entire minute from May’s average, which means at the peak of summer accidents, the average emergency response time is extended to more than 15-and-a-half minutes.

The summer months that fall between Memorial Day and Labor Day have come to be known as the “100 Deadliest Days.” This heightened period of road fatalities in the summer puts teen drivers at risk more than any other age group. In fact, it’s likely that the increased number of inexperienced young drivers on the road during the summer is a contributing factor to the high fatality rate during these summer months.

The synergetic pattern of longer emergency response times and higher average fatality rates continues throughout the summer months, until both measures drop off again in October and November. Average monthly fatality rates are at their lowest in the winter months of the new year, from January to March. On the other hand, average emergency response times see sharp spikes in December and February, approaching a total of 16 minutes in both months on average. These slow response times in December and February could be attributed to the winter holiday season and the effects of cold, snowy, and even icy conditions on the roads. In the months of March, April, and May that follow as spring arrives, those average response times drop off again and get as low as 14-and-a-half minutes before the aforementioned summer danger surge.

Overnight Response Time Peaks

Over the course of the 24 hours in a day, the average emergency response time hovers around the more general national average of about 15 minutes, 19 seconds. For most of the day, an hourly breakdown of emergency response times shows a consistent range between 14 minutes and 16 minutes on average. An increased response time closely approaching 16 minutes takes place at 7 p.m., which could have much to do with congested roads during the popular and dreaded rush hour traffic that takes place across the country’s most heavily used commuter routes.

Mostly, the early morning hours hours feature the day’s longest emergency response times on average. Between midnight and 6 a.m., response times all reach averages longer than 16 minutes. At 2 a.m., the average emergency response time surpasses 24 minutes, which would rank second on the top five longest response time chart by state, with a time just over one minute longer than Vermont’s current second place average response time.

Holiday Emergency Help

We have seen that average response times get slower in the summer months, so it is no surprise that Independence Day shows considerably slower response times than the 15 minute, 19.2 second national average year-round. On the Fourth of July, the average emergency response time falls at approximately 21 minutes. Annual Super Bowl and Thanksgiving celebrations join Independence Day as the American holidays that prompt the slowest response times.

St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, and Mardi Gras all show average emergency response times of between 12 and 14 minutes, making them the only charted holidays with average response times that are actually lower than the overall national average. Holidays such as Cinco de Mayo, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day do factor into slower average response times than the national average, but they are also celebrated on the same precise calendar date year after year, which may help plan for more reliable emergency response coverage across the nation.

Conclusion

Although it is always important to plan ahead and make smart decisions when on the road, factors like the availability and accessibility of emergency response teams are not always the first safety concerns that come to mind. Because emergency response times can vary based on geography, season, time of year, and even time of day, it would be wise to check out local facts in the state where you plan to drive or the average monthly or hourly response rate in your area – road safety solutions can sometimes depend on emergency response times, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Methodology

FARS classifies a deadly crash as any incident in which a vehicle’s motion causes a fatality. The database offers data on the locations, dates, and times of these fatal accidents from 1994–2013 as well as emergency response arrival times. We collected information for 44,574 accidents in 2013 and analyzed the reported accident times and arrival times of emergency responders. In some instances, emergency response times were listed as before reported accident times. These data were excluded from our overall calculations.

Sources

http://www.census.gov/popest/data/state/totals/2013/index.html

http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/QueryTool/querysection/selectyear.aspx

http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2014/images/05/23/national-safety-council.pdf

 


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