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Red states have more traffic fatalities than blue ones, but why?

November 20, 2012|By James Rainey
  • Crews clear the wreckage after a multi-vehicle crash near Stroudsburg, Pa.
Crews clear the wreckage after a multi-vehicle crash near Stroudsburg,… (David Kidwell / Pocono Record…)

Many social, economic and cultural factors divide states that tilt Republican from those that tilt Democratic. Now a website has uncovered a new and unexpected divide -- red states tend to have much higher traffic fatality rates than blue ones.

Partisans may try to torture a political explanation out of this data. Liberals might argue that friends don't let friends drive conservative. But the facts point toward a more prosaic explanation: Many "red states" offer up higher speed limits, longer drives and greater distances to hospitals and emergency services. Many blue-state residents take public transportation, so their chances of being killed on the road decline precipitously.

If governments could dredge up more money, this might make another argument for expanding bus and rail lines. But one hefty factor militates against, say, huge rail projects across rural America -- thinly populated red states don’t offer enough customers to justify such huge public works spending.

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The discussion of traffic fatalities through a political prism comes to us via Fairwarning.org, a website that focuses on consumer safety and related issues and is piloted by a couple of former Los Angeles Times staffers.

Assistant Editor Stuart Silverstein lined up the 2010 fatality figures and found the 10 highest death rates, per 100,000 population, in states that voted for Mitt Romney in the recent election. Seventeen of the 18 most deadly traffic states voted Republican in 2012.

The 10 states with the highest traffic death rates per 100,000 population: Wyoming, Mississippi, Arkansas, Montana, Alabama, Oklahoma, Kentucky, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia. Wyoming had 27.46 deaths per 100,000.

Nine of the 10 locales with the least traffic fatalities by population voted for President Obama in 2012. Beginning with the lowest fatality state and working upward they were: District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Washington, Illinois, California, Minnesota and Alaska. Of those, only Alaska, home of former Republican Gov. Sarah Palin, went red in 2012.

At 3.97 deaths per 100,000, the District of Columbia had only about one-seventh the rate of fatal accidents as Wyoming. The lowest-fatality locations all have comprehensive public transportation systems -- meaning that many residents drive considerably less, if at all.

FairWarning quoted Anne McCartt, the senior vice president for research with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, as saying: "No matter how you look at fatal crash rates, there are some important things that explain why states are different, and they're not political explanations."

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