Rural and Urban Safety Cultures: Human-Centered Interventions Toward Zero Deaths in Rural Minnesota


Mick Rakauskas, Nic Ward, Susan Gerberich, Bruce Alexander

November 2007

Report no. Mn/DOT 2007-41


Planning, Safety

The total number of annual traffic fatalities and the rate of fatalities per vehicle mile traveled are considerably higher in rural areas compared to urban areas. This project aimed to be one of the first studies to systematically explore the potential contribution of rural driver attitudes and behavior that may be a causal factor of these trends.

We first conducted a survey of self-reported driver behavior and traffic safety attitudes. The analysis of this survey examined differences between rural and urban drivers in terms of risk taking and attitudes toward safety interventions proposed as part of the Minnesota Comprehensive Highway Safety Plan. The results suggest that rural drivers engage in riskier behavior such as seatbelt noncompliance and DUI because they have lower perceptions of the risks associated with such behaviors. Moreover, rural drivers perceive lower value in government-sponsored traffic safety interventions than their urban counterparts.

We then measured driver behavior from a driving simulator comparing the driving behavior of rural and urban drivers during traffic scenarios that embodied common crash factors (distraction, speeding, car following, intersections). The results suggest that the rural environment may encourage less safe driving.

This study provides policy suggestions for developing safety interventions that are designed for the psychosocial factors that define the rural culture.

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