Around this time last year there were a lot of sensational headlines in the media about growth in North Dakota’s traffic fatalities. The 41% increase in traffic fatalities in the, driven by increases in traffic from the oil boom in western North Dakota, was touted by journalists who often seem thirsty for anything that paints oil activity here in a bad light.
Of course, the problem with that percentage increase is that we’re dealing with small numbers. North Dakota has the 10th lowest number of total traffic fatalities in the nation, and a fatal accident rate (the ratio of fatal accidents to vehicle miles traveled) that’s largely been static per the North Dakota Department of Transportation (more on that below)
And now, according to this report from the Minot Daily News, the number of accidents so far in 2013 is below 2012 year-to-date:
As of Friday, fatal traffic crashes are slightly down from the same time last year, apparently reversing an upward trend.
There have been 103 fatal traffic accidents so far this year, down 14 from last year’s 117 on the same date. That’s according to data from the North Dakota Highway Patrol.
In total, there were 147 fatal crashes throughout 2012, accounting for 170 deaths. There have been 111 deaths from the 103 crashes since the beginning of 2013.
Something tells me this decline in fatal accidents won’t get the same attention the increase did.
You can read the most recent statewide crash report from the DOT here. As I mentioned above, the fatal crash rate has actually been relative static in North Dakota for some time:
Some other interesting data. The injury accident rate has declined significantly:
The number of licensed drivers has skyrocketed:
Also, on page 20 of the report, note that the number of vehicle miles traveled in the state has increased more than 32% since 2008, from 7.61 billion to 10.09 billion. And then there’s this data I put together earlier this year which shows (at least through 2011) that the fatality rates in the oil patch were actually lower than the rest of the state, and actually down slightly since 2006:
The additional traffic on state roads can be aggravating, but the media sensationalism and political point-scoring have created a false perception of traffic safety. Yes, there have been increases in fatalities in recent years, but that’s in the context of more drivers driving more miles on the roads.
The state’s media could really do a better job of bringing some context to this issue.