Arizona Ranked Seventh For Rural Road Fatalities

By Rachel Lund
Published: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 4:33pm

A new study ranks Arizona's rural roads as seventh most deadly in the country. The Road Information Program, or TRIP, a national transportation research group, found that rural roads in Arizona have a fatality rate at two and a half times higher than all other roads in the state.  

TRIP Associate Director of Research and Communications Carolyn Bonifas Kelly said many of these deaths could have been prevented. 

“One third of fatal crashes are attributable to roadway design, so those are instances where adding a medium barrier or a paved shoulder or a guard rail might have helped to prevent that crash or the fatality," said Bonifas Kelly. 

She said the design of a rural roadway can differ from those in an urban area.

“In a lot of cases, they were built over a period of time," Bonifas Kelly said. "Because they don’t carry a higher level of traffic, they don’t have some of the safety features that you would see on more well-traveled urban roads, things that would make the driving environment a little more forgiving if the motorist does make a mistake on the roadways so that they don’t pay for that mistake with their lives." 

Bonifas Kelly said she believes organizations like ADOT are doing everything they can to prevent these kinds of fatalities. 

"This not at all a reflection on the ability or capability of state DOTs or the organizations that are in charge of maintaining or upkeeping the roads. Those organizations are doing a tremendous job with the funds they have available," Bonifas Kelly said. "But the reality is there is simply not enough transportation funding at the local, state and federal level to make all the needed improvements and to implement all the safety measures that would be necessary to keep the roads safer and to lower that fatality rate.”

Arizona Department of Transportation Spokesman Dustin Krugel said the study does bring to light some of the challenges facing the department. 

“This report, I think, is drawing more attention to the fact that there is a need to improve our infrastructure and there are many needs across the state, but there is very limited funding," Krugel said. "We have seen the gas tax has not moved in over 20 years and people are driving less and people are also holding onto their vehicles much longer so our revenue is decreasing." 

Krugel said limited funding can affect future plans to keep up with short-term and long-term highway needs. He said ADOT is prepared to do its part in improving roadways, but cannot do it alone. 

"To get to zero fatalities we really need to change human behavior first and foremost," Krugel said. "Driver behavior, including speeding, impaired driving, driver fatigue and distraction, is often cited as the biggest factor in preventing these crashes."

Krugel said that especially when driving on rural roads it is important to make sure you are well rested and that your car is functioning properly.

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