Study: Rural Drivers Riskier than Urban

According to a new University of Minnesota study, rural drivers--especially those behind the wheel of a pickup--are more complacent when it comes to common safety practices on the road than their urban counterparts. Researchers from UM Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute surveyed drivers in six Minnesota counties, three urban and three rural, and discovered that drivers in rural areas practiced riskier driving behaviors and were less aware of the danger in doing so. Rural drivers more frequently admitted to driving while under the influence and not using their seatbelt every time they drive. The worst offenders were rural pick-up drivers who were the least likely to wear their seatbelts, said Mick Rakauskas, a research fellow in the ITS Institute's HumanFIRST Program.

"The most interesting thing about the research is that people were willing to tell us the truth about their behaviors--that rural drivers aren't wearing their seatbelt and think that drunk driving isn't that dangerous, so education may help prevent crashes for these risk factors," Rakauskas said.

Minnesota crash data in rural areas back these findings. The researchers believe that rural drivers are more likely to have fatal crashes due to their decreased perception of the importance of safe driving. The data show that there are more crashes caused by drunk driving in rural areas and drivers wore their seatbelts less frequently in fatal and injury-causing crashes.

To further understand the findings, Rakauskas used the HumanFIRST Program's driving simulator. The simulator's car has a motion base that can be driven through a virtual environment--one rural and one urban--and allows the researchers to gauge how safely people drive. The researchers found that when projecting a rural virtual environment, all drivers had a more difficult time keeping the vehicle near the center of their lane, often edging close to the road boundaries. But when driving in an urban virtual environment, drivers seemed more cautious, especially older drivers who often had a more difficult time maintaining safe driving behavior.

While rural drivers may be riskier drivers, the results of this survey lend to some promising solutions to prevent crashes. By promoting safety with the teen drivers, educating drivers on potentially dangerous behaviors, and developing new ways to implement safety into rural infrastructures, many rural fatalities can be prevented, the researchers said. For a fully produced feature and an interview with Rakauskas, visit http://www1.umn.edu/urelate/newsservice/Multimedia_Videos/roadresearch.htm.

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