America's Deadliest Driving Counties & States
The American landscape has never lacked for variety; every day, drivers across the country encounter vastly different conditions and circumstances. But from the winding roads of northern California to the gridlock of New York City, which areas prove most dangerous – and deadly – for drivers? We gathered data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) to track where fatal crashes occurred over a 20-year period. When we indexed these stats against the number of people living in each county and state, we arrived at some stunning conclusions. Check out our results: You could be driving in a danger zone without even knowing it.
Counting by County:
It’s hard to miss the prevalence of dangerous counties in the Lone Star State. Combining low populations with a high number of fatal crashes, three Texas counties placed in our ranking of the five most dangerous nationwide. America’s most dangerous county overall, Kenedy County, is home to just over 400 residents, according the latest census – but 43 fatal crashes have taken place there over the last 20 years, resulting in a staggering per capita rate. Currently, all of Kenedy’s traffic is funneled through its lone thruway, U.S. Highway 77, where residents and passersby alike have encountered disaster. Texas lawmakers have highlighted highway safety concerns during recent efforts to improve the state's major roads through federal funding – the plan includes major reconstruction along U.S. 77.
Relative to the West, the East Coast seems to be a haven of safety. Placid vacation destination Nantucket, MA, takes our safest spot; speed limits on the island never go higher than 45 mph. The Bronx, one of New York City’s boroughs, may seem an unlikely inclusion in the top 5, given the city’s ruthless driving reputation. But no matter New Yorkers’ proclivity for fender benders, city driving often precludes deathly speeds. NYC has even strengthened regulations of late, lowering the default speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph in November 2014. The Bronx is a good reflection of our study’s counter-intuitive results: While drivers are often intimidated by urban traffic, our per capita numbers suggest they’re far more likely to encounter roadway tragedies elsewhere.
To test this conclusion, explore our interactive visualization of the results:
And the Safest State Is…
Despite this winter’s onslaught of snow, there’s some good news for Massachusetts drivers! Their state took the top spot for safety, keeping its number of fatal accidents admirably low relative to its population. More generally, the Northeast proved particularly safe, despite contending with inclement winter weather that Southern danger zones don’t. Another factor that can’t be overstated is each state’s default speed limit on major highways: The Northeast typically enforces top speeds of 65 mph, while the South and West enforce 70–75 mph. When a quick stop is required to avoid a collision, that difference matters.
Given the rural nature of the five most dangerous states, it seems localized resources can prove influential in reducing fatal crashes, especially in terms of legislation and enforcement. On long stretches of loosely maintained and thinly patrolled roads, the temptation to speed can reap deadly outcomes, and help may be slow to reach the injured parties once an accident takes place.
Take a look at the interactive map below to see how your state matches up: