Study Highlights Safety Risks of Arkansas' Rural Roads
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. --- Arkansas' traffic fatality rate is the ninth highest in the nation and the state's non-Interstate rural roads have a traffic fatality rate that is more than two and ahalf times higher than all other roads, according to a new report released this month. The study was released by TRIP, a national nonprofit transportation research group based in Washington, D.C. "Getting Home Safely: An Analysis of Highway Safety in Arkansas" examines traffic safety in the state and includes a list of highway improvements that can reduce the occurrence of serious and fatal traffic crashes. According to the TRIP report, Arkansas' traffic fatality rate of 2.03 traffic fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel ranks as the ninth highest fatality rate in the nation and is 40 percent higher than the national average of 1.45. Traffic crashes claimed the lives of 3,230 people in Arkansas between 2001 and 2005 --– an average of 646 fatalities per year.Johnny Bolin, executive director of Arkansas Good Roads Transportation Council, said: "We can save lives and reduce the number of serious traffic crashes by making neededimprovements to Arkansas' roads and bridges. Adequate transportation funding to keep our roads and bridges in good condition will greatly help in reducing crashes and fatalities."Rural traffic fatalities account for a disproportionately high share of traffic fatalities in the state, according to the report. Arkansas' traffic fatality rate on rural non-Interstate roads was 2.94 traffic fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel, compared with the traffic fatality rate of 1.18 on all other roads and highways in the state. Approximately 69 percent of traffic fatalities take place on the state's rural non-Interstate roads, although only 49 percentof all travel in the state occurs on these roads.Factors contributing to the traffic fatality rate on Arkansas' rural roads include inadequate roadway safety design, higher speeds traveled on rural roads and longer emergency response times in rural areas. Rural roads are more likely than urban roads to have only two lanes, have narrow lanes, limited shoulders, excessive curves and steep slopes alongside roadways.Traffic crashes take a tremendous economic toll on a community, in addition to the suffering and grief that they cause to those injured or killed and their loved ones. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the economic cost of vehicle crashes in Arkansas was $2 billion in 2005 --- $723 per resident. These costs include medical costs, lost economic and household productivity, psychological or emotional trauma, property damage and travel delays.Numerous roadway safety improvements can be made to reduce serious crashes and traffic fatalities in Arkansas. These improvements can include one or more of the following: rumble strips on road shoulders and medians, improving signage and pavement/lane markings, installing lighting and guardrails, adding or paving shoulders, adding median barriers, reducing the angle of roadway curves, widening lanes, and adding passing lanes."Additional funding for needed highway safety improvements could prevent Arkansas' already high traffic fatality rate from worsening. Even simple safety improvements to roads andbridges can help save a significant number of lives," said William M. Wilkins, TRIP's executive director.Additional findings of the TRIP report:• The majority of people (94 percent) killed in traffic crashes in Arkansas from 2001 to 2005 were occupants of vehicles and six percent were pedestrians or bicyclists.• Arkansas' population increased by 18 percent since 1990. During that same time, annual vehicle miles of travel increased by 48 percent.• Factors that contribute to fatal and serious traffic crashes in Arkansas include the safety design of the actual roadway, human behavior (speeding, drug and alcohol use, safety belt use, drowsiness or distraction), the safety features of the vehicle and the medical care of the victims.• Several factors contribute to the high rate of traffic fatalities on Arkansas' rural, non-Interstate roads, including inadequate roadway safety design, higher speeds traveled onrural roads and longer emergency response times in rural areas. Rural roads are more likely than urban roads to have only two lanes, have narrow lanes, limited shoulders, excessive curves and steep slopes alongside roadways.