Rural counties were the killing grounds for traffic deaths in North Carolina last year, according to an analysis by AAA Carolinas of 2011 crash statistics compiled by the NC Department of Transportation.
Richmond County was ranked in the top five most dangerous counties for tractor-trailers. In that category, the county came in second for “best chance of being in a fatal crash.”
The AAA Carolinas study revealed that the top five rural counties had a combination of 61 fatal crashes — 5.4 percent of the state’s total — despite carrying only 2 percent of the state’s vehicle miles traveled.
It was the third straight year that rural counties were the most dangerous roads in the state based on the number of traffic deaths in relation to the miles traveled, according to AAA Carolinas.
Topping the state list for 2011 traffic deaths per mile traveled were Clay, Graham, Hyde, Robeson and Hertford counties.
Nationally, two-thirds of fatal crashes occur along rural roads.
“Rural counties have roads that are generally narrower, with more curves, lower shoulders, faded or non-existent road markings and less police presence than major highways,” said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. “These roads are notorious for single-vehicle accidents involving speeding, drinking and younger drivers.”
AAA Carolinas bases its annual ranking of the most dangerous counties on the likelihood of a certain type of crash based on total vehicle miles driven.
Clay County handled less than 0.1 percent of North Carolina’s total vehicle miles traveled but had five fatal crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled — nearly five times more than the state average of 1.11 fatal crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.
The counties with the highest chance of being in any kind of collision were Pitt, New Hanover, Person, Watauga and Cumberland counties. All five also appeared on the list in 2010. Pitt has topped the list of the most dangerous counties for being in a collision for the past four years.
For a crash in which someone was injured, the counties of Graham, New Hanover, Pitt, Wayne and Cumberland counties were the top five.
Graham County, located in the North Carolina mountains on the Tennessee border, continued to be the most dangerous county for motorcycles, topping the list for collisions, injury and fatal crashes. The sparsely populated county is home to “the tail of the dragon,” a scenic mountain road popular with motorcyclists that includes 11 miles of 318 curves.
The other counties ranked most dangerous for fatal motorcycle accidents were Alleghany, Clay, Pamlico and Pender.
Swain County, also in the North Carolina mountains, was in AAA’s top five safest counties for any kind of vehicle collision or injurious crash. However, Swain proved to be extremely dangerous for motorcycles, ranking fifth most dangerous for motorcycle collisions and fourth for injurious motorcycle crashes.
North Carolina’s most dangerous counties for tractor-trailer collisions in 2011 were Anson, Bladen, Polk, Lee and Wayne counties. With the exception of Polk County, all are located in the central-eastern part of the state, which has a high concentration of tractor-trailer traffic.
The top counties for fatal crashes with tractor-trailers are Hyde, Richmond, Yadkin, Ashe and Northampton.
Swain County was ranked as the safest county for not being in a collision and not being in a crash with injuries, and Yancey County offered the best chance of not being in a fatal crash. Yancey and Camden counties both had zero fatalities in 2011, but the ranking was based on total vehicle miles traveled, which was higher in Yancey County.
The safest counties in 2011 for all motorists, with the smallest percentage of accidents per vehicle miles traveled were:
Total crashes: Swain, Haywood, Currituck, Camden and Cherokee.
Injury crashes: Swain, Camden, Polk, Hyde and Washington.
Fatal crashes: Yancey, Camden, Swain, Durham and Scotland.
The deadliest county for the highest number of fatal crashes was Mecklenburg, with 67 fatal crashes in 2011, up from 46 in 2010.
The total number of traffic fatalities in North Carolina dropped 8 percent from 1,328 in 2010 to 1,217 last year. This number has been dropping steadily over the past few years (1,344 in 2009; 1,452 in 2008) and is attributed to more targeted traffic enforcement on crash-prone roads by local and state law enforcement officers, a decline in miles traveled and more safety features in new cars, such as traction control.
“It is gratifying to see the decrease in fatalities but dismaying to note that more than three people still die every day on North Carolina roads,” said Parsons.
For all vehicles in North Carolina, the total number of crashes in 2011 was 208,545, down from 213,739 in 2010. Although vehicle miles traveled was also down from 2010, the relative number of crashes dropped from 208.9 crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2010 to 205.7 crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2011.
AAA Carolinas’ annual Dangerous County analysis, inaugurated in 1995, is one of several ways to look at North Carolina traffic crash data and done to remind motorists of the need for safe and defensive driving, especially in counties with above-average traffic crashes, injuries and deaths.
AAA Carolinas receives state traffic statistics from the North Carolina Department of Transportation and performs its own analysis to determine the most dangerous counties based on vehicle miles traveled.
AAA Carolinas, an affiliate of the American Automobile Association, is a not-for-profit organization that serves more than 1.8 million members with travel, automobile and insurance services while being an advocate for the safety and security of all travelers.
For more on AAA Carolinas, check on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AAAcarolinas or Twitter at @AAACarolinas.