North Dakota Leads The Nation In Traffic Fatalities Growth


Thanks to the oil boom, North Dakota has been on the top of a lot of very good lists lately. Fastest growing economy. Lowest unemployment rate. Fastest growing personal income rates.

But here’s a list that’s not so great to be on the top of. According to the NHTSA, North Dakota saw the fastest growth in the nation for traffic fatalities, even as traffic deaths nationally hit record lows.

WASHINGTON — Traffic deaths nationally were down last year to their lowest level since record-keeping began in 1949.
But not in North Dakota, where they were up 41%, the biggest increase of any state.

Fourteen states, including California, recorded an increase in motor vehicle fatalities, even though the 32,367 traffic deaths last year were down 1.9% from the previous year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The traffic safety agency this year projected a record low in 2011 traffic deaths as motorists drove less, perhaps because of high gas prices and a still-difficult economy. On Monday, the agency released updated numbers, confirming 1.10 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled.

The full report is below.

This sounds bad, but the number needs some context. For one thing, it’s easy to get a big percentage increase when you start with a really low number. In 2010 North Dakota had just 105 traffic fatalities, with just five states having lower numbers. While North Dakota had a 40% increase in traffic deaths, we’re still at just 148 total deaths for the entire year, which is the 10th lowest number in the nation.

But these raw numbers don’t really tell us very much. North Dakota has a very small population, and thus fewer drivers, than most other states. But, also, thanks to North Dakota’s wide-open spaces citizens here put on more miles per capita than drivers in other states.

What we need to draw a complete picture on this data is the number of vehicle miles driven in North Dakota in 2011. As we can see from this cart from the ND Department of Transportation, vehicle miles driven in the state increased significantly in 2011:

In fact, while North Dakota saw a 41% increase in vehicle fatalities, we’re actually still below the 2009 fatality rate:

As you can see, despite the oil boom and the rapid increase in traffic in the state (and the inability of state and local governments to keep up with all the necessary road upgrades and maintenance), vehicle fatality rates are actually fairly static over time.

Our roads are about as safe as they’ve ever been.

NHTSA 2011 FARS report

Rob Port

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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