For the third straight year Watauga County is in the AAA Carolinas’ annual list of North Carolina’s most dangerous counties for collisions.
Watauga joins Pitt, New Hanover, & Person as the top four counties according to an analysis by AAA Carolinas based on 2012 crash data.
Watauga County averages 259.3 crashes per 100 million miles traveled, placing it as the fourth most dangerous county.
Pitt County has ranked as the most dangerous county in the state for the past five years. With 4,633 traffic crashes in 2012, Pitt County averages 306.7 crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled – 50% higher than the state average of 204.7.
New Hanover County averages 286.8 crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, Person County averages 266.6. Union County, which ranked fifth for collisions, didn’t appear on the list last year.
AAA Carolinas bases its annual ranking of the most dangerous counties on the likelihood of a certain type of crash – fatal, injurious, motorcycle, tractor-trailer, total – based on vehicle miles traveled.
AAA Carolinas’ annual Dangerous Counties analysis, inaugurated in 1995, is one of several ways to look at North Carolina traffic crash data and done to remind motorists of the need for safe and defensive driving, especially in counties with above-average traffic crashes, injuries and deaths.
“Consistently high rankings for being one of the most dangerous counties in the state should be a wake-up call for better traffic enforcement or road design,” said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas.
For fatal crashes per vehicle miles traveled in 2012, Hoke, Warren, Gates Robeson and Yancey counties ranked most dangerous. Combined, these rural counties accounted for 81 fatal crashes – 6.8% of the state’s total – despite carrying only 2.4% of the state’s vehicle miles traveled.
Nationally, rural roads account for two-thirds of fatal crashes.
“In addition to more curves, insufficient road markings and limited police presence, rural roads are prone to more single-vehicle accidents, particularly those involving alcohol,” said Parsons.
Hoke County, ranked most dangerous for fatal crashes, handled less than 0.4% of North Carolina’s total vehicle miles traveled but had 4.27 fatal crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled – nearly four times more than the state average of 1.15.
For a crash in which someone was injured, the counties of Graham, Pitt, New Hanover, Wayne and Gaston counties were the top five. All but Gaston appeared in last year’s report for injurious crashes.
The most dangerous county for motorcycles is Graham County – topping the list for collisions, injury and fatal crashes for the past three years. The sparsely populated county is home to the “Tail of the Dragon,” a scenic mountain road popular with motorcyclists that includes 11 miles of 318 curves.
The other counties ranked most dangerous for fatal motorcycle accidents were Alexander, Alleghany, Gates and Greene.
Swain County in the North Carolina mountains topped the list for the safest county for any kind of vehicle collision and ranked fourth-safest for crashes involving injuries. However, Swain proved to be particularly dangerous for motorcycles, ranking fifth most dangerous for motorcycle collisions.
Overall, fatal motorcycle crashes increased 15% from 138 in 2011 to 158 in 2012, accounting for 13% of all fatal traffic crashes, compared to 12% in 2011.
The five counties that offered the best chance of being in a fatal tractor-trailer crash in 2012 were Tyrrell, Warren, Northampton, Polk and Montgomery. Other than Northampton, which was ranked fifth last year, none appeared on the list in 2012.
Counties rated most dangerous for tractor-trailer collisions were Anson, Hertford, Washington, Bladen and Duplin. Anson County, along U.S. 74 between Charlotte and Wilmington, has topped the list for tractor-trailer collisions for the past three years. Counties with the best chance of being in an injurious crash involving a tractor-trailer were Hertford, Washington, Sampson, Bladen and Anson.
Overall, fatal tractor-trailer crashes were up 13% from 68 in 2011 to 77 in 2012 and account for about 6% of all fatal crashes.
The county with the best chance of not being in a collision was Swain, which has topped the list the past three years. Currituck was ranked as the safest for crashes with injuries and Perquimans was ranked as the safest for fatal crashes. Perquimans and Hyde counties both had no fatalities, but the ranking was based on total vehicle miles traveled, which was higher in Perquimans.
The safest counties in 2012 for all motorists, with the smallest percentage of accidents per vehicle miles traveled were:
Total crashes: Swain, Haywood, Currituck, Camden and Polk (all but Polk were in top four in 2011 and 2010)
Injury crashes: Currituck, Tyrrell, Polk, Swain, Haywood
Fatal crashes: Perquimans, Hyde, Haywood, Moore, Cabarrus
The deadliest county with the highest total number of fatal crashes was Mecklenburg, with 69 fatal crashes, up from 67 in 2011. Wake had 61, Cumberland 50, Robeson 47 and Guilford 39. Although Mecklenburg, Wake, Cumberland and Guilford counties are metropolitan areas, rural Robeson County includes heavily traveled I-95 and U.S. 74.
The total number of traffic fatalities in North Carolina increased 4% from 1,217 in 2011 to 1,270 in 2012. This number had been dropping steadily over the past few years (1,452 in 2008, 1,344 in 2009, 1,328 in 2010, 1,217 in 2011) before increasing in 2012.
For all vehicles in North Carolina, the total number of crashes in 2012 was 213,856, up from 208,545 in 2011. Although vehicle miles traveled was up from 2011, the relative number of crashes dropped slightly from 204.8 crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2011 to 204.7 in 2012.
AAA Carolinas received state traffic statistics from the North Carolina Department of Transportation and performs its own analysis to determine the most dangerous counties based on vehicle miles traveled.