Which Counties Have The Deadliest Driving Commutes?

Which Counties Have The Deadliest Driving Commutes?

In 2017 there were 8,725 traffic fatalities that resulted from crashes that occurred during commuting hours in the U.S., with some areas considerably more deadly than others. Of the 10 large counties (with 500,000 or more residents) that ranked as having the deadliest driving commutes, half were located in Florida.

Not all the days of the week are equally dangerous for commuters—with Friday commutes accounting for 17% more vehicle accident deaths than Monday commutes. The spike in road deaths on Fridays correlated with an increase in DUI-related fatal accidents during commuting hours. In fact, DUI-related deaths increased by 41% on Fridays compared to the weekly average.

Below we breakdown the areas with the most driving commute fatalities in 2017, as well as the areas with the largest increases and decreases in fatalities from the previous year.


The 5 Deadliest Driving Commutes: Large Counties

1. Volusia County, Florida

16.5 annual fatalities per 100,000 driving commuters {.alternate-font}

Volusia County, which is home to Daytona Beach, ranks as the deadliest large county for driving commuters—with 30 traffic fatalities during commuting hours in 2017. This county’s fatality rate of 16.5 annual traffic deaths per 100,000 driving commuter is more than double that of nearby Orange County's rate of 7.3. The major thoroughfare US-1—which runs the length of Volusia County along the coast—was the deadliest road in the county during commuting hours, accounting for 1 out of every 6 traffic fatalities.

Deadliest Roads in Volusia County, Florida for Driving Commutes

Road
Fatalities
US-15
I-953
SR-5A3
US-173
SR-402

2. Kern County, California

12.1 annual fatalities per 100,000 driving commuters

Our analysis found that Kern County, which comprises the south end of California's Central Valley, has the deadliest commute for drivers of the 58 counties in the state. Compared to the statewide average of 5.4 annual fatalities per 100,000 driving commuters, Kern's roadways are 125% more deadly—with a rate of 12.1.

Deadliest Roads in Kern County, California for Driving Commutes

Road
Fatalities
SR-585
I-53
SR-119 Taft Highway2
SR-142
SR-992

3. New York County (Manhattan), New York

11.7 annual fatalities per 100,000 driving commuters

The bustling streets of Manhattan are among the most deadly in the country during commuting hours. There were 8 traffic fatalities in New York in 2017, which—given that only 8% of commuters drive to work—amounts to a death rate per driving commuter that is 67% higher than the national average and 149% than the New York state average.

Deadliest Roads in New York County (Manhattan), New York for Driving Commutes

Road
Fatalities
1st Avenue1
2nd Avenue1
3rd Avenue1
Broadway1
East 20th Street1

4. Fresno County, California

10.9 annual fatalities per 100,000 driving commuters

In Fresno County, California—which is located about 100 miles north of Kern County, California—90% of commuters drive to work according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. In 2017 there were 36 traffic fatalities that occurred during the morning or evening rush hours—17% of which occurred on California State Route 33. This is 6 more than were in neighboring Kings (#9) and Tulare (#21) counties combined.

Deadliest Roads in Fresno County, California for Driving Commutes

Road
Fatalities
SR-336
SR-1803
Chestnut Ave2
SR-992
11th Street1

5. Polk County, Florida

10.5 annual fatalities per 100,000 driving commuters

Polk County, Florida—home to the major municipality of Lakeland—amassed 24 total traffic fatalities during commuting hours in 2017. This figure is half as many as that of neighboring Hillsborough County, which had 48 deaths resulting from commuting traffic accidents. However, since Polk also has 59% fewer residents who drive to work, it came out as the more deadly county per driving commuter.

Deadliest Roads in Polk County, Florida for Driving Commutes

Road
Fatalities
SR-606
SR-332
US-272
US-922
Allegheny Drive1


Deadliest Counties for Driving Commuters by County Size

The aforementioned counties were the most deadly for driving commuters with populations over 500,000, but our survey included samplings from all of the 2,437 counties, organized boroughs, census areas, independent cities (as well as the District of Columbia) in the U.S. with 10,000 or more residents in 2016. For the sake of making accurate comparisons, we separated these districts into three categories: large, mid-sized and small. The rankings for the deadliest cities for driving commuters for each size category is included below.

An image listing the top 5 cities for Commuter Traffic fatalities by size.

We found that, of all the groups considered in this survey, small counties with populations between 10,000 and 100,000 had the highest rate of driving commuter deaths. The average commuting traffic fatality rate across these counties of 12.7 is 83% greater than the national average and 178% greater than the mean for large counties.

Size
Fatalities
Driving Commuters
Total Commuters
% of driving commuters
Fatality rate (fatalities per 100,000 driving commuters)
Large2,70059,183,56772,877,97081%4.6
Mid-sized2,62639,807,93644,360,99590%6.6
Small3,12824,652,37127,014,64591%12.7
National8,725125,037,241145,861,22186%7.0

This trend of more sparsely populated areas having higher instances of traffic fatalities is consistent with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) findings. Past reports have shown that in recent years, the fatality rate per vehicle miles traveled in rural areas was as much as 2.6 times higher in rural areas than in urban areas.

Biggest Year-Over-Year Change

The county with the largest jump in the commuting traffic fatality rate was Collin County, Texas—which contains the Dallas suburb of Plano. In 2017 there were 8 more commuting fatalities than there were in the previous year. Conversely, neighboring Suffolk County—which is located directly to the west of Collin County in Texas—saw the biggest decrease in commuting traffic fatality rate, with 8 fewer traffic fatalities during commuting hours in 2017 compared to 2016.

A chart displaying the large counties with the greatest increases and decreases in traffic fatality rate during commuting hours from 2016 to 2017.

What Day of the Week Is Worst for Commuting Traffic Deaths?

Friday is the most deadly day of the week to drive home from work. The number of traffic fatalities was 7% greater than on an average weekday. In fact, our study showed that traffic deaths are 77% more likely to occur on Friday night than they are on Monday morning—which was the least deadly time to drive to work.

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The increase in traffic fatalities during the Friday evening commute can be attributed to an increase in drunk driving accidents. On Fridays, 20% of the traffic fatalities during commuting hours resulted from accidents that involved a drunk driver. This is 5 percentage points higher than the average across all weekdays of 15%.

Graph of the percentage of traffic fatalities during commuting hours that involve drunk drivers.

Full List of Counties


Methodology

We analyzed the total number of traffic fatalities that occurred during commuting hours as reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System. We broke commuting hours into two periods:

  • Morning commute: weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.
  • Evening commute: weekdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Accidents that occurred during a holiday were excluded from our results.

County level driving commute fatality rates represent the number of commuting traffic fatalities that occurred in 2017 per 100,000 driving commuters, according to the 2016 U.S. Census 5-year American Community Survey. We broke down counties into the following size classifications:

  • Large: Population of 500,000 or greater
  • Midsized: Population between 100,000 and 499,999
  • Small: Population between 10,000 and 99,999

We chose not to include those counties with populations less than 10,000 in our comparisons. However these counties' commuting traffic fatalities were counted toward the national figures.

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