Strange: Why Do Red States Have More Traffic Fatalities?

When it comes to politics, conservative and liberal states are certainly on completely different tracks. But surprisingly, research shows they also part ways on a gloomy statistic: fatal traffic accidents.

Stuart Silverstein, a reporter for FairWarning, a nonprofit investigative news organization focused on public health and safety issues, reported Tuesday that traffic fatalities are more likely to occur in red states than blue states. Looking at 2010 federal statistics, Silverstein found that states with the highest rates of traffic deaths were overwhelmingly red states — calculated by those which voted Romney in the 2012 election. It’s estimated that U.S. traffic accidents killed more than 32,000 people in 2010.

Wyoming had the highest rate of deaths per 100,000 people at 27.46, while the District of Columbia had the lowest rate of deaths at 3.97. Although there are some outliers, Silverstein’s graph shows a clear partisan divide when it comes to traffic fatalities — which have safety experts perplexed.

Below is the chart:

deadly divide

One possible explanation is that blue states enact tougher safety laws. Silverstein cited Texas’s recent opening of a toll road with an 85 mph speed limit.

But that’s not always the case.

As Silverstein stated:

Blue Michigan in April repealed its requirement that all motorcyclists wear helmets, while some states with the toughest helmet laws are in the Deep South.

Experts noted that other possible explanations include weather conditions, ability to access high-quality trauma centers and how rural a state is, which increases the chance of driving on narrow, winding roads. Traffic fatalities may also be linked to lower incomes and education levels. 

Silverstein stated that some experts have critiqued the use of analyzing deaths per 100,000 people, suggesting deaths per total miles traveled may be more accurate.

Still, some insist the partisan divide is just coincidental, as too many factors are at play when it comes to traffic fatalities. 

Anne McCartt, the senior vice president for research with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety told Silverstein:

No matter how you look at fatal crash rates, there are some important things that explain why states are different, and they’re not political explanations.

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