The Most Dangerous States to Drive In

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more Americans aged five to 34 are killed in motor vehicle crashes than from any other single cause. Despite this disturbing fact, a study released this week shows that states where fatalities caused by car accidents are a major issue are doing the least to prevent them.

The Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit disease prevention group, released a report earlier this month on various causes of injuries and deaths in the United States. Included in that report is a by-state analysis of CDC data on auto fatalities, the costs arising from all fatalities, and the policies states use to prevent car crashes. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 states that had the highest rates of auto fatalities.

Deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. range widely. Twelve states averaged less than 10 deaths per 100,000 people a year during 2007 to 2009. Massachusetts had the lowest average yearly rate in the country of just 5.5 per 100,000 people. On the other end of the spectrum, 14 states had at least three times as many deaths per 100,000 people. Mississippi had close to five times that rate.

A CDC report identified the estimated lifetime costs incurred by the states as the result of auto fatalities in a single year, including medical expenses and lost economic productivity. These two costs exceeded $170 billion in the U.S. in 2005, the most recent year data are available.

With such high costs, and more importantly loss of life, the question is whether there is anything states can do to prevent car accidents. The Trust for America’s Health found that nothing works better to prevent traffic deaths than seat belt use. According to a report released by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, six of the 10 states with the lowest seat belt usage rates also had the highest average auto fatality rates between 2007 and 2009.

The Trust for America’s Health report also identified four key policies labeled by the CDC as useful in improving traffic safety. The four include having a primary seat belt law (which allows police to stop and ticket unbuckled drivers without any other cause), a mandatory ignition interlock for all convicted drunk drivers, a mandatory motorcycle helmet law, and requiring booster seats for children eight years old and younger.

Despite the massive financial burden auto accidents place on states each year, it appears many still fail to enact the kinds of basic safety laws that are believed to be instrumental in cutting down auto accidents deaths. In fact, it appears that the states with the highest rates of auto fatalities are missing some of those key policies. Of the 15 states with one or none of these policies in place, seven were among those with the highest fatality rates.

24/7 Wall St. ranked all 50 U.S. states based on the highest yearly average automobile deaths per 100,000 people from 2007 to 2009. 24/7 Wall St. also calculated the total costs incurred by state for these deaths using the CDC’s WISQAR report, which was for 2005. While the average auto mortality rate and the cost estimates are from different time periods, each are the most recently available data, and were used to approximate the actual costs of traffic deaths.

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