It’s in your court: rural driving is more dangerous than urban

It’s In your court

Judge Steve Halsey
Wright County District Court

In the small towns and rural areas of the Tenth Judicial District, which includes Washington County, nearly 30,000 drivers each year are arrested for drunk driving, many on rural roads.

One could reasonably conclude that drunk driving is vastly more prevalent in highly-populated urban areas, but statistics do not bear that out, at least on a national basis.

Here are a few frightening statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

Rural areas account for 80 percent of the total U.S. road mileage and 40 percent of the vehicle-miles traveled.

In 2010, 19 percent of U.S. population lived in rural areas.

Rural travel reflects the rural environment of long distances, relatively low traffic volumes, relatively rare traffic congestion, travelers unfamiliar with the surroundings, and rugged terrain in remote areas. (Also riskier road conditions: poor lighting, narrower roads.)

In 2010, the fatality rate per miles driven was 2.5 times higher in rural areas than in urban areas. (MNDOT states 70 percent of Minnesota traffic fatalities occur in rural areas.)

In 2010, 10,228 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes and rural areas accounted for 55 percent of these fatalities.

Compliance with seat-belt laws is also less in rural areas, according to NHTSA:

53 percent of rural passenger vehicle occupants killed were unrestrained compared to 48 percent of urban passenger vehicle occupants killed.

Nearly two-thirds of rural pickup truck occupants killed were unrestrained – the highest percentage of any passenger vehicle occupants killed among both rural and urban areas.

Seat belt use goes down as BAC levels go up:

BAC .00 – Belt use 84 percent

BAC .08+ - Belt use 13 percent

No difference in rural v. urban use.

Finally, there will likely be more serious consequences from being injured in a crash caused by a drunk driver in a rural area due to increased response times based on distance to be traveled by emergency response teams.

So, when you are out on a county road during the night, be vigilant and wear your seat belt. That vehicle coming over the next hill may be operated by a drunk driver, or a deer may be around the next bend.

We see many drunk-driving cases in criminal court where the driver was drinking at a rural bar, thought they were not intoxicated, and concluded they could drive the few miles home without endangering themselves or others, as well as avoid detection by law enforcement. Bad choices can turn tragic. Call a sober ride. Be safe.

Submitted by Wright County District Court Judge Steve Halsey, chambered in Buffalo. Judge Halsey hosts a blog at

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