News: CJ Exclusives

Three Counties Remain Most Dangerous

AAA Carolinas study looks at accidents, injuries, and fatalities on roadways

All three of the North Carolina counties with the worst crash statistics on state roads in 2002 remained the most dangerous for traffic deaths, traffic injuries, and property damage crashes in 2003, according to AAA Carolinas.

New Hanover County, for the fifth straight year, was the county with the greatest chance, per mile driven, for total collisions and injury collisions. It includes the city of Wilmington.

For the second consecutive year, the greatest chance for dying in a traffic crash was in rural Graham County, which was also the most dangerous for motorcycle collisions. Graham County includes the Nantahala National Forest and roads generally sought by motorcyclists for their scenic beauty and tortuous curves.

Watauga County motorists, for the third year in a row, were most likely to have a collision involving property damage only. The county includes the city of Boone.

Statewide, highway fatalities dropped 1.3 percent, to 1,552 deaths for 2003. “Hopefully, these communities that continue to lead the state in traffic deaths, injuries and crashes will use their resources to address speeding and other forms of aggressive driving that continue to play a major role in the state’s accidents,” said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas.

AAA Carolinas’ study is based on the number of collisions, deaths, and injuries per-mile traveled in each county to show where motorists have the greatest, and least, chances of being in a crash, being injured, or killed.

AAA Carolinas has compiled its data annually for the past eight years.

New Hanover County accounts for only 1.43 percent of the vehicle miles traveled within the state, ranking as the 20th busiest county in the state, yet it recorded 2.5 percent of all collisions and 2.8 percent of all statewide injury collisions. The county was slightly more dangerous than it was in 2002, with accidents occurring more often per vehicle mile driven than in the previous year.

Graham County, with a population of 8,033, recorded 41 motorcycle crashes, two of them fatal. Only two counties, Tyrell and Hyde, have less traffic than Graham, which endures only 0.07 percent of the state’s traffic. Graham reported six fatal crashes in 2003, one more than in 2002.

While Watauga had only 0.45 percent of the state’s traffic, it saw 0.69 percent of the total collisions and 0.77 percent of the property-damage only collisions in the state. The county was more dangerous for property-damage crashes than it was in 2002, with accidents occurring more often per vehicle mile driven than the previous year.

The top three counties with the greatest risks by category:

Total collisions: New Hanover, Mecklenburg, Watauga (Mecklenburg moved up one spot from 2002, Watauga down one)

Property damage only: Watauga, New Hanover, Mecklenburg (unchanged from 2002)

Injury only: New Hanover, Graham, Mecklenburg (Pitt County dropped two spots to fourth)

Fatalities: Graham, Warren, Hoke

Mecklenburg County, which was most dangerous for tractor-trailer collisions, injuries, and fatalities last year, remains at the top for injuries and collisions, but falls to third in fatalities.

Guilford and Johnston counties each recorded six tractor-trailer fatalities; Mecklenburg, Forsyth, and Gaston had five each.

Mecklenburg recorded 1,283 tractor-trailer collisions, twice the number of the second county, Wake (625 collisions), which includes Raleigh. Next were: Guilford (567 collisions), which includes Greensboro; Durham (372), which includes the city of Durham; and Cumberland (247), which includes Fayetteville.

“Counties with major interstates endure the most tractor-trailer traffic,” Parsons said, “and the most tractor-trailer crashes.”

AAA Carolinas analyzed traffic accident data in four categories—total collisions, property damage only, fatal accidents, and injury-only accidents, based on 2003 crash data.

The safest five counties, with the least chance of being in a collision per-mile driven, were, in order, Swain (for the third straight year), Camden, Polk, Currituck, and Haywood. Four counties reported zero fatalities: Alleghany, Camden, Yancey, and Mitchell—the second consecutive year Mitchell recorded zero fatalities.

“There are a few road rules motorists should follow, regardless of where they drive: buckle up, maintain a proper following distance, don’t drink and drive, and obey the speed limits,” Parsons said. “These simple rules would save hundreds of lives each year.”

AAA Carolina’s ranking of counties is one of several ways crash data can be analyzed and it is done in order to alert motorists statewide about the environment in which they drive.