Driving is a big part of life in rural Minnesota. Everything is more spread out, and drivers log many more miles than their urban counterparts. For the most part, drivers in Greater Minnesota don’t have to deal with traffic jams, confusing interchanges, crowded crosswalks or bicycle lanes that sneak up out of nowhere.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that rural driving is safer. On the contrary, nearly 60 percent of all fatal accidents statewide happen in rural areas, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Nationwide, rural drivers face a fatality rate 2.5 times higher than urban drivers.
Why the discrepancy?
A number of factors contribute to the increased danger of rural driving:
- More two-lane highways: Whereas urbanites have freeways separated by medians, rural drivers spend most of their time on two-lane highways. There’s a smaller margin for error, and head-on collisions – which are often fatal – are more common.
- Higher speed limits: According to the national data, urban crash fatalities tend to occur where the speed limit is 50 mph or less. In rural areas, however, most crashes occur where the speed limit is 55 mph and up.
- Higher incidence of DUI: Rural roads have more alcohol-related fatal crashes than urban areas. Drunk driving is more prevalent, particularly where there are high numbers of bars but no access to public transportation. Taxis and ridesharing options are also harder to come by.
The data also suggests that rural roads experience a higher volume of semitruck traffic, which might contribute to the higher fatality rate.
It’s easy to go into autopilot behind the wheel. Reducing your risk of an accident requires a solid foundation of focused attention and safe habits. Being aware of the risks – and taking steps to avoid or mitigate them – is an important first step.