Many people in the United States fear driving in urban areas where traffic is chaotic and travel depends on freeways and busy streets. Instead, they feel safer on less crowded roads, including rural highways. Those rural highways, however, are actually more dangerous to drive. In fact, many of our nation’s traffic fatalities occur in rural areas, especially in relation to population.

In Nevada, Esmeralda County was found to have the third highest driving fatality rate in the country according to Auto Insurance Center, a national insurance company that performed in-depth data collection and research to arrive at a conclusion many others have echoed: rural highways and roads may seem easy driving, but can be deceptively risky. Nevada is no exception as most of the state is considered rural and is webbed with empty highways and backroads.

The data was compiled from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) in order to track crashes over a twenty-year period (1994-2013). Those statistics were compared to populations of the states and counties (derived from Census data) where these fatal crashes occurred. The results were tabulated and are represented by an interactive map found at:

In terms of general results, the Northeast part of the U.S. proved particularly safe in terms of crash fatalities, with Massachusetts in the top spot as the country’s safest state. Reasons for their relatively low crash rate include a high use of seat belts, safe driver training, and ready access to emergency services. Speed limits across the Northeast as a whole are lower than higher-risk areas such as the South and West who typically enforce speed limits between 65-75mph. Plus there is less space between an injured driver and a hospital, which allows for quicker, more advanced treatment of a critical patient.

Holding the #3 “most dangerous” state for crash fatalities, Esmeralda County, which neighbors Mineral County to the south, had 0.69 crashes per capita between 1994-2013, numbers that translate to just under 700 crashes per 10,000 residents over the same twenty year period. Because this study focuses its statistics on fatal accidents per population, larger cities who might have more vehicle fatalities still end up with smaller per capita numbers. For example, Washoe County during the same time had 690 fatal crashes per 10,000 people, resulting in a “safe” or green designation on the map because of its higher population. Clark County boasts a safe rating even with 3,623 fatal crashes in the same timeframe. As a state, Nevada has a rating of 21 fatal accidents per 10,000 which keeps within a “safe” designation according to the map.

However, Mineral County is not far behind Esmeralda County in terms of fatal crashes. Its overall number, 58, is equal to Esmeralda County’s total, but because Mineral County’s population is larger, it has a per capita rate of 0.0126. Still, Mineral County is considered a “Most Dangerous” county by this particular study.

So what do these numbers mean? In short, don’t get comfortable on familiar rural highways and roads. Most counties in Nevada have a lot of road to cover, both for highway patrol and county workers who work under limited budgets and resources. Rural crashes, according to various sources similar to the company who compiled the data for this report, are due to risks like poorly maintained roads and people tempted to speed in those wide spaces between towns. The five most dangerous driving states, Mississippi, Wyoming, Montana, Alabama, and West Virginia are mainly rural.

Nevada Highway Patrol is doing its part to help keep rural roads safe by stopping distracted and impaired drivers before they can cause an accident. They also ticket drivers not wearing their seat belts and failing to maintain their travel lanes. But as the study notes, “when you combine high speeds, varied terrain, and limited local resources for infrastructure and enforcement, disaster can ensue.” So driving carefully on Nevada’s highways is important for all of us to do, for ourselves and each other. That means driving sober, maintaining a reasonable speed, limiting distractions, wearing seat belts, refusing to drive tired, and utilizing defensive driving skills so we’re all safe on Nevada’s rural roads.