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Study: Appalachian traffic fatality rate far higher than rest of U.S.

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MORGANTOWN, WV– Though the Appalachian region is home to less than 10 percent of the United States' population, the region's traffic fatality rate is 45 percent higher than that of non-Appalachian areas, according to faculty at West Virginia University's School of Public Health.

"The elevated traffic fatality rate in Appalachia was largely due to a higher proportion of rural residents and a higher fatality rate among urban Appalachian counties," explained assistant professor Motao Zhu, M.D., Ph.D., the study's principal author and WVU Injury Control Research Center researcher. "Traffic fatality rates were higher for passenger-vehicle drivers and passengers, motorcyclists and ATV riders, but lower for pedestrians and bicyclists in Appalachia, compared to the non-Appalachian U.S."

About 25 million people live in the Appalachian region, comprised of parts of 13 states, including Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. West Virginia is the only state whose borders are located entirely within the Appalachian region. The total traffic fatality rate for residents of this area for the period from 2008 through 2010 was 15.8 traffic deaths per 100,000 people, much higher than the 10.9 fatalities per 100,000 people living in the rest of the United States.

Dr. Zhu stated there are two known contributors to the elevated rate of fatalities. First, statistics show people who live in rural areas, Appalachian or not, have a much higher traffic fatality rate than urban residents; Appalachia has a higher proportion of rural residents than the rest of the U.S.

Second, the traffic fatality rate for urban Appalachian counties was higher than that of urban counties in the rest of the country. Zhu said his team was not aware of a similar study ever comparing traffic fatality rates in Appalachia and the rest of the country. Follow-up studies will focus more on causation.

"Our next study will examine the mountain terrain and roadway issues, such as road width and number of lanes, the prevalence of older passenger vehicles without current safety features and emergency medical response time," Zhu said.

The study currently appears on the web site of the "Annals of Epidemiology" and can be viewed atwww.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1047279713000884.

--WVU HEALTH--