Michigan Winter Driving Fatalities

From 2014 to 2018, there were 248 fatalities resulting from winter weather-related car crashes due to snow, sleet or ice on Michigan roadways. Rural counties tended to be more dangerous for drivers relative to their urban peers, and speeding at the time of the crash was involved in more than 50% of fatalities over the period. Young drivers aged 15-19, as well as seniors over the age of 65, were disproportionately at risk for winter driving fatalities.

The Worst Large Counties in Michigan for Winter Driving Fatalities

1. Calhoun County

5.20 winter driving deaths per 100,000 residents

Calhoun County, just east of Kalamazoo, ranks as the worst large county in Michigan for winter weather-related driving fatalities. Between 2014 and 2018 there were 7 deaths, or 5.20 fatalities per 100,00 residents -- more than double the Michigan average of 2.48. I-94, which was identified as the most dangerous interstate for winter driving in our study, runs directly through Calhoun County and links the major metropolitan areas of Chicago and Detroit.


2. Genesee County

3.44 winter driving deaths per 100,000 residents

Genesee County, home to Flint and the birthplace of General Motors, had the second highest rate of winter weather-related driving fatalities per resident among large Michigan counties -- seeing a total of 14 deaths over the five year period. I-75, the third most dangerous interstate for winter driving in Michigan, passed directly through Flint.


3. Allegan County

3.41 winter driving deaths per 100,000 residents

Allegan County is located just to the north of Kalamazoo and on Lake Michigan's eastern shore. Allegan County and many of its lakeside peers are frequently subject to lake effect snow in the winter. As cold air passes over Lake Michigan, heat and moisture from the lake begin to rise and form clouds that cause heavy snow to fall on the land and often create hazardous driving conditions.


4. Kalamazoo County

3.40 winter driving deaths per 100,000 residents

Kalamazoo County saw 9 winter driving fatalities over the period analyzed and shares a border with both Calhoun and Allegan counties, which had the first and third highest rates of winter driving deaths among large Michigan counties in our study. I-94, Michigan's most dangerous interstate for winter driving, also runs directly through Kalamazoo County.


5. Muskegon County

2.88 winter driving deaths per 100,000 residents

Muskegon County, just north of Grand Rapids, saw the fifth-highest rate of winter driving deaths relative to population among large Michigan counties. Similar to Allegan County, Muskegon sits on Lake Michigan's eastern shore, and is often subject to lake effect snow.


The most dangerous places in Michigan for winter driving by county size

Our study analyzed data from all 83 counties in Michigan, which were grouped by population: small, medium and large. Here, we rank each county based on winter weather-related fatality rates from the 2014-2018 by county size.

Where are you most likely to be in a fatal winter weather-related car accident?

table of cities with high weather-related car accidents

Across Michigan counties of all sizes, many winter weather-related fatalities occurred in the Western part of the state, particularly near the city of Kalamazoo.

These areas included Calhoun, Allegan, Kalamazoo, Cass and Van Buren counties, many of which are on or near Lake Michigan and frequently subject to lake effect snow in the winter. Counties containing Flint, Traverse City and parts of Michigan's Upper Peninsula also faced higher than average rates of winter-weather-related fatalities.

All counties in the table above had winter-weather related driving fatalities higher than the Michigan average of 2.48 deaths per 100,000 residents. Small counties tended to be more dangerous than their midsize and large peers, with an average rate of 6.00 deaths per 100,000 residents, compared to 5.11 for medium counties and 1.54 for large counties. In fact, of all Michigan counties analyzed, eight of the top 10 most dangerous for winter weather were considered small, with a population between 10,000 and 49,999.

Similarly, a majority of winter driving fatalities occurred in rural areas, per the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration's classification system.

AreaTotal fatalitiesPercentage
Rural15261%
Urban9639%


Worst interstates in Michigan for winter driving

The deadliest interstate for winter driving fatalities in Michigan was I-94, a major thoroughfare crossing the state horizontally through Kalamazoo and Detroit.

table of the deadliest interstates in Michigan

When are winter driving fatalities in Michigan most likely to occur, and who's most at risk?

Winter weather-related crash fatalities were reported in Michigan during seven months of the year, from October to April. January, however, is the deadliest month accounting for more than 25% of deaths during the period analyzed, followed by December and February. Together, these three months accounted for two-thirds of all winter driving fatalities. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, these months, and January in particular, see the greatest average total inches of snowfall and days with freezing temperatures of 32 degrees Fahrenheit or less.

Importantly, nearly 40% of all fatalities occurred at night after sundown. More than half of all winter driving deaths occurred between Thursday and Saturday, with Saturday being the most dangerous day of the week on average. In contrast, Monday was typically the safest day and accounted for less than 10% of deaths.

Also of note, certain demographic groups appeared disproportionately impacted by winter driving. Over a third of winter weather-related fatalities involved a young (ages 15-19) or senior (ages 65+) driver. Specifically, 13% of total winter driving deaths in Michigan involved a young driver, while 21% involved a senior driver. Both age groups, especially younger drivers, are often considered higher risk for driving accidents, and this is reflected in more expensive auto insurance premiums and how car insurance costs vary by age.

Winter driving tips

Driving during the winter, particularly during hazardous conditions involving snow, sleet or hail and freezing rain, is dangerous, and for many Michigan residents, unavoidable during certain parts of the year. Given the elevated risk of accidents, it's important that Michigan drivers prepare themselves and their vehicles for winter driving, including carrying appropriate car insurance coverage.

  1. Drive with caution: When the winter weather starts getting difficult, all drivers should take extra care to drive safely. It's important to avoid unsafe behaviors that can increase your risk of getting in an accident, such as speeding or texting while driving. Staying within the speed limit may prove especially helpful, as just more than half of all winter driving fatalities in Michigan (52%) involved drivers speeding over legal limits. For comparison, speeding only accounted for 23% of Michigan driving fatalities that occurred on days with no adverse atmospheric conditions or hazardous winter weather. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recommends that motorists halve their normal driving speed in winter weather.
  2. Winter-proof your car: Ensuring that your vehicle is ready for winter roads can make all the difference in the event of hazardous weather. We recommend that all drivers check their car's battery, lights and fluids before the season starts and consider investing in winter tires. Some car insurance providers may even offer discounts for safety equipment like snow tires.
  3. Carry adequate insurance coverage: Having proper car insurance coverage can help protect you from severe financial loss in the event of a car accident. Be sure to check whether or not your policy includes comprehensive and collision coverage. Liability only or minimum coverage policies will likely not cover property damage to your car caused by winter weather, such as hail damage or falling tree branches. We also recommend drivers consider emergency roadside assistance coverage in case they need towing and extraction services following a winter accident.

Complete list of Michigan winter driving fatalities by county (2014-2018)

RankCountySizeTotal fatalitiesFatalities per 100,000 residents
1KalkaskaSmall528.05
2OgemawSmall419.09
3MackinacSmall218.54
4LakeSmall216.83
5GogebicSmall213.25
6MissaukeeSmall213.23
7RoscommonSmall312.56
8CassMedium611.62
9BenzieSmall211.27
10Van BurenMedium79.28
11IronSmall19.00
12MenomineeSmall28.70
13AntrimSmall28.56
14OtsegoSmall28.11
15ChippewaSmall38.00
16DickinsonSmall27.88
17CheboyganSmall27.87
18Presque IsleSmall17.85
19MarquetteMedium57.52
20CrawfordSmall17.19
21MecostaSmall36.89
22ArenacSmall16.65
23HillsdaleSmall36.56
24Grand TraverseMedium66.48
25ClintonMedium56.30
26LenaweeMedium66.11
27WexfordSmall25.98
28TuscolaMedium35.71
29HoughtonSmall25.52
30CalhounLarge75.20
31BarryMedium34.91
32SanilacSmall24.86
33LeelanauSmall14.59
34IoscoSmall13.99
35GladwinSmall13.95
36CharlevoixSmall13.81
37OceanaSmall13.76
38AlpenaSmall13.53
39GeneseeLarge143.44
40AlleganLarge43.41
41LapeerMedium33.41
42KalamazooLarge93.40
43St. JosephMedium23.28
44ClareSmall13.25
45HuronSmall13.21
46MontcalmMedium23.13
47IoniaMedium23.11
48EmmetSmall13.00
49ShiawasseeMedium22.93
50MuskegonLarge52.88
51IsabellaMedium22.83
52DeltaSmall12.79
53OttawaLarge82.75
54EatonLarge32.73
55BerrienLarge42.60
56GratiotSmall12.46
57InghamLarge62.05
58NewaygoSmall12.05
59BayLarge21.92
60JacksonLarge31.89
61WashtenawLarge71.89
62KentLarge121.84
63SaginawLarge31.57
64MonroeLarge21.33
65St. ClairLarge21.26
66MidlandMedium11.20
67LivingstonLarge21.05
68WayneLarge150.86
69OaklandLarge80.64
70MacombLarge40.46
71AlconaSmall00.00
72BranchSmall00.00
73ManisteeSmall00.00
74MasonSmall00.00
75OscodaSmall00.00

Methodology

We identified the total number of fatalities caused by winter weather-related crashes in counties reporting at least one fatality from 2014–2018 via the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for Michigan. We then calculated the average winter weather-related fatalities per year and compared this figure to U.S. Census data for Michigan counties.

We considered crashes that occurred under the following atmospheric conditions to be winter weather-related crashes:

  • Sleet or hail
  • Snow
  • Blowing snow
  • Freezing rain or drizzle

We identified large counties as those with populations of more than 100,000 residents, medium counties with populations of 50,000 to 99,999 residents, and small counties with populations of 10,000 to 49,999. Counties with a population of less than 10,000 were excluded from the analysis.

Supplemental weather data was gathered from Comparative Climatic Data tables, maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Specifically, we averaged the total snowfall and number of days with a minimum temperature of 32ºF or less across the major U.S. weather observing stations in the state.

Michael Hoffmann is a Senior Research Analyst focused on insurance. He was previously a Technology Editor at The Economist Intelligence Unit and has had prior roles as an ETF and Equity Analyst focused on emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and cloud computing.

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