N.H. roads rank among safest in U.S.

  • One of the vehicles involved in a head-on crash rests near the Hungry Buffalo on Route 4 in Chichester on Wednesday, May 23, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER

Concord Monitor
Published: 6/26/2019 10:40:49 PM
Modified: 6/26/2019 10:40:44 PM

CONCORD — The horrifying news about New Hampshire traffic fatalities over the past week, which saw 12 people die in multiple crashes including the seven motorcyclists killed by a pickup truck in Randolph has led some readers to ask us why Granite State roads are so dangerous.

It’s certainly true that roads can become deadly in an instant. It’s also true that statistics are no consolation to bereaved families and friends of people who have been killed or injured in crashes.

However, a look at national crash data shows that on average, roads in the Granite State are among the safest in the country.

In 2017, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, New Hampshire roads were the sixth-safest in the country when measuring road fatalities per person and were the third-safest when measuring road fatalities per mile driven, behind only Minnesota and Massachusetts.

State comparisons are not yet available for 2018, but New Hampshire probably won’t fare as well. The number of fatalities on state roads rose sharply in 2018 while national road fatalities edged downward by about 1%. Despite the jump in deaths, New Hampshire roadways are likely to remain statistically safer than the roads in the majority of states.

Perhaps surprisingly, despite the rash of fatal crashes this month, the state actually has seen fewer road fatalities this year than last year. As of Monday, according to New Hampshire State Police, 39 people have died on New Hampshire roads in 2019, compared to 49 at this time in 2018. This year’s tally may have been kept down partly by the string of cold, rainy weekends in the spring. Bad weather cuts down on the number of cars on the road, which also cuts down on crashes.

All this also applies to motorcycles, an important factor since New Hampshire has one of the nation’s highest rates of motorcycle ownership. In 2017, motorcycles were involved in about one-seventh of fatalities in the state, the same percentage as the nation as a whole, and so far this year despite the crash in Randolph, the same number of people have died — a total of 10 — as at this point in 2018.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to make things better, such as the state’s “Driving Toward Zero” program aiming to eliminate fatal crashes. The safety data shows an easy way to improve things: Buckle up.

New Hampshire has far by the lowest rate of seat belt usage of any state and far more of our fatalities occur to people not wearing seat belts than any other state. A full 73 percent of people who died in accidents in 2017 were “unrestrained,” in official terminology, compared to the national rate of 43 percent.

Cutting down on drunken driving would help as well, although perhaps not as strikingly. In 2017, 24% of New Hampshire crash fatalities involved a person with blood-alcohol content above .08, the usual limit for driving.

That figure is low compared to other states: Only five others had a lower percentage of fatalities involving DUI — although it should be noted that 18 states do not measure blood-alcohol content for all serious crashes and are not counted in the comparison.

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