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West Virginia’s Rural Roads: Beautiful but Deadly

A West Virginia country road at sunrise

Understanding the the Dangers of Rural Roads

Take Me Home Country Roads, a West Virginia favorite, reminds us of home, safety, and beautiful rural roads. So, it may be surprising to learn that nearly half of all fatal accidents in West Virginia and across the US occur on rural roads, even though only 19% of the population lives in rural areas.

In fact, over 85,000 people died in auto accidents on rural roads between 2016 and 2020, according to a GHSA report sponsored by State Farm.

What Makes West Virginia’s Rural Roads so Dangerous?

Top Dangers Unique to Rural Roads  

  • #1 Speeding (Speeding is often more dangerous on rural roads)
  • #2 Lower Seat Belt Use
  • Risky Driver Behavior
  • Blind Curves and Hidden Driveways
  • No Medical Help Nearby  
  • Unusually Sharp Curves and Steep Hills
  • Narrow Road Width 
  • No Street Lights, Low Visibility
  • No Shoulder or Guardrails
  • Washouts/ Flooding
  • Debris on Road
  • Winding Roads Making Rollover Accidents are More Likely
  • Farm equipment, ATVs, and livestock on Roadway

How to Avoid Accidents While Driving on the Rural Roads of West Virginia

West Virginia rural road winding a curve in the fall with orange leaves

Driving on the rural roads of West Virginia can be beautiful but dangerous. You can significantly reduce the risk of being injured in a car accident by exercising extra caution while driving on them. Below are some of the steps you can take to avoid accidents on rural roads. Can you think of others?

#1 Speeding: Speeding on Rural Roads is Especially Dangerous

Hilly winding roads, narrow shoulders and limited driver view makes rural roads and speeding a deadly combination. For example, eighty-four West Virginians died in 2017 in high-speed collisions, and around 30% of those crashes involved speeding.

#2  Not Wearing a Seatbelt: Why Buckling Up in West Virginia Matters

Rural residents are consistently shown to buckle up less. In fact, 50% of rural road fatalities involved unrestrained drivers or passengers. In West Virginia, 98 crash fatalities in 2017 involved individuals not wearing seatbelts. Not wearing a seatbelt is a substantial predictor of a crash-related death, and the CDC believes it’s the best explanation for why so many more people die in rural crashes compared to those in urban areas. 

Other Top Tip for Avoiding Accidents and Injury While Driving on Rural Roads

  • Increase Your Following Distance: Leave more space between you and the car in front of you. This gives you critical extra time to react to unexpected events like truck accidents and road construction.
  • Beware of Blind Curves: Curves can seriously limit visibility, especially on West Virginia’s rural roads. Slow down and stay in your lane to avoid oncoming traffic you may not see in time.
  • Road Conditions: Rural roads may have potholes, soft-shoulders, gravel, or other unexpected changes in the road surface. Adjust driving accordingly.
  • Fatigue: Rural drives might seem monotonous, leading to drowsiness. Take breaks, get fresh air, and pull over if you feel tired.
  • Improve Your Visibility: turn on your headlights to make yourself more visible, even during the day.
  • Avoid Distractions: Cell phones are off-limits while driving. Focus all your attention on the road.
  • Don’t Drive Impaired: Alcohol or drugs significantly increase the risk of accidents.
  • Maintain Your Vehicle: Check tire pressure, fluids, and lights regularly and ensure your car is in safe working order.
  • Plan your route: Familiarize yourself with the route if possible, looking out for sharp curves, intersections, and potential areas with animal crossing signs.
  • Emergency Kit: Prepare a kit with water, a first-aid kit, flares, and a flashlight, especially for remote areas.

Finding Motivation to Buckle Up

Seatbelts saved  14,955 lives in 2017 and could have saved 2,549 more people had they worn their seat belts, according to the NHTSA. In other words, seatbelts save about 35 people every single day, and the next person a seatbelt saves could be you. Improving seat belt use remains a critical strategy for saving lives and protecting our community.

Top 4 Reasons People Give for Not Buckling Up

Below are the most common justifications people gave for not buckling up and why those justifications are usually unfounded. Perhaps that might help you buckle up if you don’t already. I must admit #2 below has motivated me to wear seatbelts more often when riding in the backseat.

The airbag will save me.
Airbags are designed to work with seat belts, not replace them. In fact, the force of airbag deployment when not wearing a seatbelt can seriously injure or kill you.

I don’t need to wear a seat belt in the backseat.
Unbelted rear seat passengers have 11 times the risk of serious injury compared to those wearing a seatbelt and are more than 30 times more likely to be ejected from the vehicle. Therefore, remember to always buckle up when traveling in an Uber or Taxi.  

I’m not going far enough to get into a crash.
52% of crashes are found to occur less than 5 miles of home, and most fatal crashes happen within 25 miles from home.

I won’t be going fast enough to get injured.
Most fatal auto accidents occur at speeds of less than 40 mph.

National Rural Safety Innovation Program

The number of serious injuries and deaths on rural roads is disproportionately high compared to urban roads. In fact, the problem is so big that the NHTSA budgeted $15 million towards a National Rural Safety Innovation Program in 2008. Even though urban areas have a higher total number of collisions, crashes resulting in death were 2.6 times higher in rural areas like West Virginia than of all traffic deaths on urban roads.

Get a Free Consultation with a West Virginia Personal Injury Lawyer 

The West Virginia car accident lawyers of West Law Firm standing with their team.

We hope this information helps keep you and your loved ones safe on West Virginia’s roadways. However, if you or they were injured in an auto accident that wasn’t your fault, we invite you to call one of our experienced injury attorneys at West Law Firm for a Free Consultation.

We will be happy to advise you of your options and let you know whether we think you need a lawyer — sometimes you don’t. Also, there’s no obligation and NO FEE unless and until we recover compensation for you.

Our toll-free number is 1-877-943-9378 (WEST), and we will come to you if that’s more convenient for you. At West Law Firm, we serve clients who have been wrongfully injured in car or trucking accidents, at work, a slip and fall, or by negligence anywhere in West Virginia, even if you live out of state.

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