Rural America has some of the most beautiful scenery in the entire country. But open roads with fewer cars can sometimes cause drivers to feel overconfident. In a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drivers in rural counties had a higher motor-vehicle death rate than urban counties. Distracted driving isn’t the biggest issue here. The biggest reason behind this: a lack of seat belt use.

The Study

The CDC pulled data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and used their own Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). FARS identified passenger vehicle occupant deaths with adults 18 and over, and BRFSS estimated how often drivers and passengers used their seat belts.

What the CDC found was that motor-vehicle death rates were three to 10 times higher in rural counties than urban ones. In these fatal crashes, the CDC found that a higher proportion of drivers and passengers weren’t buckled up at the time of the fatal crash.

Key Findings

Death rates in rural areas for adult drivers and passengers have increased since 2014:

  • West: 3.9 to 40.0
  • South: 6.8 to 29.2
  • Midwest: 5.3 to 25.8
  • Northeast: 3.5 to 10.8

buckling up, seat beltA big contributing factor to this could be a lack of seat belt use.

  • Comparing seat belt use at the time of a fatal crash, 44.4 percent of drivers and passengers weren’t buckled up in urban counties, while 61.3 percent of drivers and passengers weren’t buckled up in rural counties.
  • Self-reported seat belt use was lower: 88.8 percent in urban counties, 74.7 percent in rural.
  • Primary enforcement states (an officer can ticket a driver or passenger for not using a seat belt) had higher seat belt use in rural areas compared to secondary enforcement states (an offer can only issue a ticket for not using a seat belt when another violation occurred).

Bottom Line

You should always wear your seat belt, regardless of where you are on the road, who's driving, or what time of day it is. The seat belt is there to save your life, and there’s a reason why it’s a law to use one.

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