Safety Belts and Rural Communities -
2005 Report

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Rural Americans face a greater risk of being injured or killed in a traffic crash than people who live and commute in urban areas.  The fact is, only 21 percent of the population lives in rural areas in this country, yet 39.5 percent of the total vehicle miles traveled are on rural roads.  In 2003, rural traffic crashes accounted for 60 percent of the total fatalities on our Nation’s highways.1  Many factors contribute to this, including some that are unique to rural areas.  For instance, rural crashes often occur in isolated areas, causing a delay in the time of discovery and in the delivery of emergency services to the victim.  Other prominent factors contributing to the high rural crash and fatality rates include alcohol involvement, high-speed crashes, low safety belt use, vehicle rollovers, and ejections.

Although safety belt use in rural areas increased to 76 percent in 2004,* it remains slightly lower than the national rate (80 percent).2  The lower rate may be attributable to the lower use of safety belts among pickup truck occupants in rural areas (62 percent in 2003), a common mode of transportation.3

Along with pickup truck occupants, another high-risk group is 15- to 20-year-olds.  Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds.  In 2003, 7,884 15- to 20-year-old drivers were involved in fatal crashes, 3,657 were killed, and an additional 308,000 were injured.4  Almost twice as many vehicle occupants in this age group died in rural area crashes compared to urban crashes.  Sixty percent of these young people who died in rural area crashes were unrestrained, compared to 52 percent in urban areas and 51 percent of the total for all age groups.5  To achieve further gains in rural safety belt use, campaigns will need to focus more directly on rural communities and among these high-risk groups within those communities.

Rural Communities Are at Risk

Percent Fatal Passenger Vehicle Occupant Ejections in 2003

Source: Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) 2003

(Rural vs. Urban Fatal Crashes)
Type of Vehicle
Rural Crashes
Urban Crashes
All Passenger Vehicles
Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs)
Pickup Trucks

* Note: The majority of data for this fact sheet is from 2003, which is the latest year available at the time of publication. In some instances 2004 data was available and was included.