These three states have the deadliest highways in America

Traffic may be heavy everywhere but its safer in some states than others - ConsumerAffairs

Mississippians should skip the 'participation trophy' portion of the awards ceremony

Buckle up, folks. Some of you are about to find out that where you live could have a road or two to ruin. 

ConsumerAffairs has been poring through the latest National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA) traffic safety facts and it’s a pretty rough ride.

Overall, fatalities increased 10% from 2020 to 2021 for the U.S. Seven states showed some promise in that department with a decrease in road deaths, but 43 states went up in that metric.

And, the nation as a whole was also going the wrong way during that period. The U.S. was up 10% from the previous year while 108 countries reported a drop in road traffic-related deaths.

Ten of those actually succeeded in reducing road traffic deaths by over 50%, including Denmark, Japan, Norway, and Russia, while 35 others reduced deaths by 30% to 50%.

However, recent NHTSA data points to a sigh of relief with a decline in recent months. From January through September 2023, vehicle fatalities were down 4.5% year over 2022. Whew.

Where are the safest states to drive in?

When you break down the backstory of the safest states in which to drive, a common theme among several with a low number of crash-related deaths is those states do not play it loose when it comes to driving.

For example, Rhode Island – the number one in this category – is pretty stubborn about DUIs, especially among young drivers. While the state shares the national standard blood alcohol content (BAC) limit of 0.08, it has a lower threshold (0.05) for DUI penalties aimed at drivers younger than 20. Interestingly enough, this happens despite a new ConsumerAffairs study that found Rhode Island to have the “worst roads in America”.

Vermont also ranks high in this category, thanks in part to lower speed limits on most roads compared to national averages. Going slower allows drivers more reaction time and slower speeds means crashes won’t be as severe when they do occur.

New York and Massachusetts – second and third in fewest annual crash fatalities based on a percentage of the population – also deserve some kudos. 

New York, because the state has three things working in its favor in keeping fatalities low. First, there’s graduated driver licensing, where new drivers have stricter requirements like limitations on nighttime driving, passengers, and curfews. 

In Massachusetts, drinking and driving laws are far less lenient than in other states. Massachusetts has a lower BAC limit (0.08), compared to some states with a 0.10 limit. Additionally, Massachusetts has some of the harshest penalties for repeat DUI offenders, including the potential for jail time even for a first offense.

Where should you stay off the highway? 

What a difference there is here. We go from 63 deaths in the “safest” state to 4,498 in the “least safest” state. That’s dramatic.

What’s also dramatic is the narrative behind those numbers. For example, North Carolina with 1,663 deaths came in fifth. Much of that blame falls on speeding, impaired driving, and the fact that some of North Carolina’s roads may lack features like wide shoulders, proper lighting, or median barriers, which can worsen the outcome of accidents.

Georgia with 1,797 fatalities comes in at number four and the root of that (around 76%) of that is linked to a hodgepodge of unsafe driving behaviors. For example, data show that over half of those killed in Georgia weren't wearing seatbelts.

But now let’s get to the juicy stuff. Here are the top three states that lead in fatalities:

Number three is Florida, with 3,738 crash deaths. Why? More distracted drivers. More people texting while driving, more people fidgeting with the radio, more people eating or drinking, talking to passengers, or dozing off.

Number two is California, with 4,285 fatalities. Again, distracted driving is to blame.

And, deep in the heart of the U.S. are the losers

If you’ve really got a death wish, being on the road anywhere in Texas will work wonders. 

Out of the 79,000 miles of Texas highways, there were 4,068 fatal crashes that produced 4,498 deaths in 2021. Just enough for it to edge out California by a couple of hundred for the first-place award that no state wants on its welcome sign.

Evidently, looking at those numbers, you don’t need to play Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” or have a bottle of Scotch to die behind the wheel in the Lone Star State.

But, there are those who don’t pay attention to drinking and driving in Texas. It also leads the country with 2,175 alcohol-related fatalities. Breaking that down, a third of the drivers involved in fatal crashes in Texas had blood alcohol levels (BAC) of .01 or higher.

The NHTSA doesn’t hand out participation trophies, but if it did, there’s one state that may want to skip the awards ceremony: Mississippi.

“Mississippians are twice as likely to die in a car crash than the average American and more than four times as likely to die in a car crash than residents of Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York or Rhode Island,” ConsumerAffairs Alexus Bazen and Michael Dempster, said, commenting on the latest highway fatality figures.

You could start with the young’uns. Mississippi has been identified as one of the deadliest states for young drivers, with a high fatal crash involvement rate among drivers under 21. One reason may be that to get a driver’s license in the state, you can score one without ever having to take a physical driving test.

Seatbelts are an issue, too. In Mississippi, seat belt usage rates are the second lowest in the country, right after Massachusetts.

The last danger once you hit the Mississippi state line are all the rural roads, and the state has a lot of them. Like North Carolina, those backroads often lack wide shoulders, proper lighting, and median barriers, and many are deteriorated which can worsen the outcome of accidents compared to well-maintained highways.

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