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Fatality Facts 2021Urban/rural comparison

Overview

Urban and rural areas have fundamentally different characteristics with regard to density of road networks, land use and travel patterns. Consequently, the characteristics of fatal motor vehicle crashes differ between rural and urban areas. For example, pedestrian and bicyclist deaths and deaths at intersections are more prevalent in urban areas, whereas a larger proportion of large truck occupant deaths and deaths on high-speed roads occur in rural areas. Although 20 percent of people in the U.S. live in rural areas U.S. Census Bureau. (2023). 2020 Census urban areas facts. Retrieved April 19, 2023, //www.census.gov/programs-surveys/geography/guidance/geo-areas/urban-rural/2020-ua-facts.html.and 32 percent of the vehicle miles traveled occur in rural areas, Federal Highway Administration. (2023). Highway statistics, 2021. U.S. Department of Transportation.40 percent of crash deaths occur there.

The following facts are based on analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (FARS). In FARS, rural and urban boundaries are determined by state highway departments and approved by the Federal Highway Administration. Reliable information on rural and urban areas has been available in FARS since 1977. Posted May 2023.

Vehicle types

In 2021, 66 percent of large truck occupant deaths and 64 percent of pickup occupant deaths occurred in rural areas, whereas more than 80 percent of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths occurred in urban areas. Motorcyclists were more likely to die in urban than in rural areas.
Motor vehicle crash deaths by vehicle type and land use, 2021
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths % Deaths % Deaths %
Cars and minivans 6,148 42 8,544 58 14,744 100
Pickups 3,114 64 1,715 35 4,855 100
SUVs 3,257 49 3,348 50 6,636 100
Large trucks 501 66 254 34 756 100
Motorcycles 1,966 32 4,093 67 6,084 100
Pedestrians 1,140 15 6,191 84 7,388 100
Bicyclists 140 15 816 85 961 100
Total* 17,103 40 25,598 60 42,939 100

Crash types

In 2021, single-vehicle crashes accounted for 52 percent of crash deaths occurring in both rural and urban areas.
Motor vehicle crash deaths by crash type and land use, 2021
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths % Deaths % Deaths %
Single-vehicle crashes 8,925 52 13,338 52 22,465 52
Multiple-vehicle crashes 8,178 48 12,260 48 20,474 48
Total 17,103 100 25,598 100 42,939 100

Where crashes occur

Compared with urban areas, crash deaths in rural areas in 2021 were less likely to occur on interstates and freeways (14 percent compared with 21 percent) and on other arterial roads (23 percent compared with 58 percent) and more likely to occur on collector roads (44 percent compared with 11 percent) and local roads (19 percent compared with 11 percent).
Motor vehicle crash deaths by road functional class and land use, 2021
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths % Deaths % Deaths %
Interstates and freeways 2,334 14 5,277 21 7,611 18
Arterial 3,984 23 14,735 58 18,719 44
Collector 7,576 44 2,722 11 10,298 24
Local 3,191 19 2,852 11 6,043 14
Total* 17,103 100 25,598 100 42,939 100
In 2021, 15 percent of crash deaths in rural areas occurred at intersections, compared with 31 percent in urban areas.
Motor vehicle crash deaths by junction type and land use, 2021
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths % Deaths % Deaths %
Intersection 2,533 15 7,885 31 10,445 24
Nonintersection 14,570 85 17,713 69 32,494 76
Total* 17,103 100 25,598 100 42,939 100
In 2021, 74 percent of crash deaths in rural areas occurred on roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher. By comparison, 30 percent of crash deaths in urban areas occurred on these roads.
Motor vehicle crash deaths by speed limit and land use, 2021
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths % Deaths % Deaths %
≤35 mph 1,247 7 7,502 29 8,831 21
40-50 mph 2,695 16 9,075 35 11,807 27
55+ mph 12,594 74 7,610 30 20,218 47
Total* 17,103 100 25,598 100 42,939 100

Speeding

Speeding has been involved in more than a quarter of motor vehicle crash deaths in both rural and urban areas over the past decade. In 2021, 28 percent of crash deaths in rural areas and 29 percent in urban areas involved speeding. Speeding is defined to include crashes in which a driver was issued a traffic citation for speeding or in which driver-related factors included driving too fast for conditions, racing or exceeding the posted speed limit.
Motor vehicle crash deaths involving speeding by land use, 2012-2021
Rural Urban
Speeding-related Not speeding-related Total Speeding-related Not speeding-related Total
Number % Number % Number % Number % Number % Number %
2012 5,756 31 12,611 69 18,367 100 4,559 30 10,812 70 15,371 100
2013 5,376 30 12,364 70 17,740 100 4,311 29 10,808 71 15,119 100
2014 4,905 29 11,886 71 16,791 100 4,367 27 11,550 73 15,917 100
2015 4,826 27 12,746 73 17,572 100 4,504 27 12,326 73 16,830 100
2016 5,116 28 13,205 72 18,321 100 5,150 27 14,207 73 19,357 100
2017 4,740 27 12,665 73 17,405 100 5,183 26 14,793 74 19,976 100
2018 4,341 27 11,982 73 16,323 100 5,212 26 15,196 74 20,408 100
2019 4,358 27 11,930 73 16,288 100 5,209 26 14,737 74 19,946 100
2020 4,659 29 11,681 71 16,340 100 6,718 30 15,795 70 22,513 100
2021 4,833 28 12,270 72 17,103 100 7,437 29 18,161 71 25,598 100
In 2021, on roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher, speeding was a factor in similar proportions of crash deaths in rural (26 percent) and urban areas (27 percent). On roads with lower speed limits, speeding was more likely to be a factor in rural crash deaths.
Motor vehicle crash deaths involving speeding by speed limit and land use, 2021
Rural Urban
Speeding-related Not speeding-related Total Speeding-related Not speeding-related Total
Deaths % Deaths % Deaths % Deaths % Deaths % Deaths %
≤35 mph 515 41 732 59 1,247 100 2,533 34 4,969 66 7,502 100
40-50 mph 956 35 1,739 65 2,695 100 2,527 28 6,548 72 9,075 100
55+ mph 3,217 26 9,377 74 12,594 100 2,035 27 5,575 73 7,610 100
Total* 4,833 28 12,270 72 17,103 100 7,437 29 18,161 71 25,598 100

Alcohol

From 1982 to 1994, the percentage of fatally injured drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 percent declined steadily from 49 percent in both rural and urban areas to 34 percent in rural areas and to 32 percent in urban areas. This percentage has declined more gradually since 1994 and was 29 percent in rural areas and 30 percent in urban areas in 2021. In urban areas, the percentage of fatally injured pedestrians ages 16 and older with BACs at or above 0.08 percent declined from 40 percent in 1982 to 30 percent in 2021, a 24 percent reduction. In rural areas, the percentage declined from 53 percent in 1982 to 31 percent in 2021, a reduction of 41 percent.
Percent distribution of fatally injured people with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent by type and land use, 1982-2021
Estimated number and percent of fatally injured people with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent by land use, 1982-2021
Rural Urban
Drivers Pedestrians (age ≥16) Drivers Pedestrians (age ≥16)
Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08
Number Number % Number Number % Number Number % Number Number %
1982 15,155 7,486 49 2,076 1,110 53 9,388 4,589 49 3,995 1,598 40
1983 14,958 7,122 48 1,922 1,016 53 9,137 4,404 48 3,760 1,507 40
1984 15,979 7,175 45 1,984 975 49 9,591 4,314 45 3,898 1,508 39
1985 15,610 6,611 42 1,815 882 49 9,711 4,072 42 3,845 1,447 38
1986 16,401 7,070 43 1,819 871 48 10,215 4,336 42 3,847 1,430 37
1987 16,776 6,996 42 1,774 813 46 10,035 4,055 40 3,894 1,391 36
1988 17,393 7,261 42 1,847 832 45 9,834 3,828 39 3,950 1,369 35
1989 16,606 6,701 40 1,632 758 46 9,767 3,929 40 4,000 1,459 36
1990 16,223 6,644 41 1,577 731 46 9,511 3,746 39 3,984 1,433 36
1991 15,285 6,182 40 1,460 667 46 8,615 3,290 38 3,476 1,255 36
1992 14,307 5,501 38 1,362 619 45 8,161 2,910 36 3,408 1,257 37
1993 14,795 5,368 36 1,404 609 43 8,189 2,910 36 3,398 1,279 38
1994 15,078 5,188 34 1,303 565 43 8,576 2,713 32 3,372 1,168 35
1995 15,469 5,436 35 1,403 600 43 8,795 2,830 32 3,408 1,204 35
1996 15,519 5,276 34 1,335 588 44 8,923 2,875 32 3,380 1,241 37
1997 16,008 5,127 32 1,385 541 39 8,635 2,710 31 3,276 1,110 34
1998 16,180 5,228 32 1,402 568 40 8,520 2,595 30 3,216 1,127 35
1999 16,721 5,321 32 1,316 534 41 8,462 2,573 30 3,033 1,126 37
2000 16,205 5,248 32 1,203 486 40 8,705 2,701 31 2,962 1,045 35
2001 16,646 5,356 32 1,297 513 40 9,186 2,885 31 3,107 1,067 34
2002 17,262 5,562 32 1,279 500 39 9,341 2,942 31 3,123 1,095 35
2003 16,795 5,232 31 1,141 453 40 9,892 3,101 31 3,180 1,117 35
2004 16,943 5,157 30 1,148 436 38 9,885 2,985 30 3,122 1,113 36
2005 16,693 5,225 31 1,121 434 39 10,599 3,218 30 3,360 1,139 34
2006 16,350 5,124 31 1,145 460 40 10,831 3,406 31 3,242 1,200 37
2007 16,098 5,182 32 1,142 473 41 10,412 3,414 33 3,189 1,129 35
2008 14,652 4,740 32 1,113 460 41 9,459 3,166 33 2,970 1,093 37
2009 13,472 4,405 33 1,052 403 38 8,331 2,794 34 2,763 1,001 36
2010 12,569 3,852 31 1,053 410 39 8,321 2,672 32 2,926 1,001 34
2011 12,498 3,873 31 1,083 436 40 8,229 2,628 32 3,100 1,116 36
2012 12,920 4,072 32 1,190 445 37 8,549 2,654 31 3,323 1,191 36
2013 12,405 3,830 31 1,199 463 39 8,523 2,712 32 3,305 1,137 34
2014 11,864 3,659 31 1,033 372 36 8,906 2,721 31 3,633 1,238 34
2015 12,322 3,385 27 1,137 393 35 9,388 2,729 29 3,871 1,318 34
2016 12,871 3,467 27 1,186 382 32 10,788 3,191 30 4,576 1,600 35
2017 12,487 3,416 27 1,097 344 31 11,231 3,232 29 4,701 1,546 33
2018 11,722 3,154 27 1,074 346 32 11,274 3,177 28 5,067 1,685 33
2019 11,686 3,213 27 1,023 301 29 11,000 3,161 29 5,005 1,622 32
2020 11,919 3,425 29 1,059 296 28 12,852 3,753 29 5,277 1,653 31
2021 12,554 3,642 29 1,093 343 31 14,722 4,393 30 6,051 1,843 30

Seat belt use

According to a national daytime observational survey of motorists in 2021, seat belt use among front seat occupants was 90 percent in rural areas and 91 percent in urban areas. National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2021). Seat belt use in 2021 — Overall results (Report No. DOT HS-813-241). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.Unrestrained vehicle occupants are more likely than restrained occupants to be fatally injured in a crash, so belt use is much lower among fatally injured occupants. In 2021, 44 percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants 13 and older in both rural and urban areas were belted.

Seat belt use among fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants 13 and older by land use, 2012-2021
Rural Urban
Belt used Unbelted Unknown Belt used Unbelted Unknown
Deaths % Deaths % Deaths % Deaths % Deaths % Deaths %
2012 5,643 43 6,669 51 786 6 3,749 46 3,529 43 866 11
2013 5,714 45 6,184 49 846 7 3,778 47 3,273 41 911 11
2014 5,565 46 5,871 48 729 6 4,031 48 3,382 41 932 11
2015 5,929 47 5,987 47 813 6 4,205 48 3,537 40 1,024 12
2016 6,183 47 6,232 47 825 6 4,740 48 4,063 41 1,130 11
2017 5,956 47 5,814 46 853 7 5,172 49 4,153 39 1,196 11
2018 5,535 47 5,512 47 793 7 5,166 49 4,217 40 1,148 11
2019 5,629 48 5,339 46 760 6 4,949 49 4,053 40 1,166 11
2020 5,025 43 5,662 49 869 8 5,212 44 5,129 43 1,565 13
2021 5,466 44 5,946 48 934 8 5,969 44 5,730 43 1,717 13
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