, Former U of M Researcher, Mechanical Engineering
The 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, one of the first of its kind, systematically explored the contribution of rural driver attitudes and behavior that may be a causal factor of these trends. Researchers began by conducting 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 suggested that rural drivers engage in riskier behavior, such as seat belt non-compliance and driving while impaired, 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. The researchers then measured driver behavior from driving simulator experiments that compared the driving behavior of rural and urban drivers during traffic scenarios that embodied common crash factors (distraction, speeding, car following, and intersections), and found that the rural environment may encourage less safe driving. This study provided policy suggestions for developing safety interventions designed for the psychosocial factors that define rural culture.