Out of the 42,815 traffic fatalities in 2002, crashes on rural roads in areas with populations of 5,000 or less accounted for more than 60% of those deaths, according to a report released by the General Accounting Office.
The GAO found that the four primary factors contributing to rural road accident fatalities were driver behavior, roadway environment, vehicles and the care given victims after the crashes.
Almost 70% fatalities on rural roads between 2000 and 2002 involved drivers not wearing seat belts. A large number of rural road fatalities also involved impaired and speeding drivers.
Rural roadway characteristics contributing to crashes included narrow lanes, sharp curves and the presence of trees and animals.
The GAO suggested all states adopt stricter drunken-driving and safety-belt laws. The agency also noted that rural roads are largely the responsibility of local governments, which makes paying for improvements more difficult because there is no federal aid directly flowing to such projects.
GAO noted the Federal Highway Administration gave approximately $27.4 billion in aid to states in FY 2003. While much of that money funded projects with safety features, the amount specifically used for safety was not tracked. The federal government also provided states with $648 million for the Hazard Elimination and Rail-Highway Crossings program, of which $330 million was directed for rural road safety.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also provided $671 million in FY 2003 for programs--both rural and urban--aimed at changing driver behavior to improve safety, GAO said.